Witness says he saw Ventura get decked by Kyle's punch
By Marino Eccher | Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. | Published: July 16, 2014
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Count another former Navy SEAL among the witnesses who say they saw parts of a fight between Jesse Ventura and Chris Kyle at a Coronado, Calif., bar.
Jeremiah Dinnell, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, testified Wednesday that he saw Kyle knock Ventura to the ground with a punch. He said the incident came after Ventura spent the evening badmouthing the Iraq war and fallen soldiers at a wake.
Ventura's attorneys responded to the testimony with an aggressive effort to pin Dinnell down on inconsistencies with prior statements. At one point, U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle shut down the line of questioning, saying the cross-examination was "nitpicking."
Chris Kyle, who is no relation to the judge, told the story of the punch in his 2012 bestseller "American Sniper.
" He said a celebrity dubbed "Scruff Face" was at the bar during a wake for a slain war hero, said the SEALs "deserve to lose a few" in the conflict and eventually clashed with Kyle.
Ventura sued Kyle after the author identified him in promotional interviews as Scruff Face. The former Minnesota governor said the story never happened and ruined his reputation. He continued the lawsuit after Kyle was killed in Texas last year.
The case is on trial in federal court in St. Paul. Other have said they saw Ventura get hit, on the ground or getting up with a bloodied lip. They've also said they heard him make politically charged remarks that rubbed them the wrong way.
Dinnell, like many other witnesses, was at the bar in 2006 for the wake of Michael Monsoor, who died in Iraq that year after throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades.
Ventura, a former Navy Underwater Demolition team member, was there too for a reunion. The Underwater Demolition Teams were later merged with the SEALs.
Dinnell said he tried to buy a beer for Ventura. Ventura turned it down, saying he didn't drink because of blood-thinner medication.
Later, Dinnell said he and others heard Ventura going on a tirade against the war in Iraq. He thought Ventura would be savvy enough to know the crowd -- which included family members of slain SEALs -- didn't want to hear that.
But "he didn't care," Dinnell said. "It was about him."
Before he got hit, Dinnell said, Ventura made the remarks about SEALs deserving to lose men in the war.
David Olsen, one of Ventura's attorneys, pressed Dinnell on potential discrepancies between testimony Dinnell had given in an early deposition and what he said on the stand Wednesday. Those ranged from the time he arrived at the bar to whether he had a conversation with Ventura to whether he saw Ventura hit the ground after the punch.
Defense attorneys raised several objections to Olsen's questions, and Judge Kyle eventually directed Olsen to "either move on to something substantive or let this witness go."
Kyle also put the kibosh on Olsen's attempt to ask if Dinnell had curtailed his drinking on the night in question because he'd previously gotten into trouble.
Defense attorney Leita walker asked Dinnell if he had any doubt that he heard Ventura utter the "deserve to lose a few" remark.
"That's something that sticks with you," Dinnell said.
Later Wednesday, Debbie Job, the mother of a now-deceased SEAL, took the stand. Her son Ryan was blinded in Iraq and died unexpectedly years later after reconstructive facial surgery.
Job and her son were at the bar for the Monsoor wake. She met Ventura, she said, but it wasn't memorable.
She didn't hear his remarks or see Kyle hit him, she said -- but she heard the story circulating while she was still at the bar the same night.
Ventura's attorneys have suggested the story was cooked up later in the evening at another bar among SEALs who were drinking heavily. That wasn't the case, Job said.
Ventura's attorneys also asked her about her conversations with Chris Kyle and other witnesses before she gave her account.
None of those people told her what to say, she said; her recollections were her own.