Jesse Ventura jury returns after flirting with mistrial
By MARINO ECCHER | Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. | Published: July 29, 2014
ST. PAUL, Minn. — After flirting with a mistrial via deadlock, the jury in Jesse Ventura's defamation trial will be back at it again Tuesday in federal court in St. Paul.
The proceedings appeared to be heading for an ending without a resolution when jurors sent U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle a note about noon Monday saying they didn't believe they could reach the unanimous decision required for a verdict.
But Kyle sent jurors back to "take one more shot" at reaching a consensus — reminding them failure to do so would effectively hit the reset button on a trial that entered its fourth week Monday.
Jurors went back to work but later broke off deliberations without reaching a verdict. They'll return Tuesday morning.
The 10-member jury is deciding whether former Navy SEAL-turned-author Chris Kyle defamed Ventura in his best-selling 2012 autobiography "American Sniper."
In the book, Kyle claimed to have punched out a celebrity he dubbed "Scruff Face" at a Coronado, Calif., bar in 2006 after the man bad-mouthed fallen soldiers at a military wake.
Ventura says that never happened and sued Kyle after the author identified him as Scruff Face. The former Minnesota governor continued the lawsuit against Kyle's estate after Kyle was shot to death last year at a Texas gun range.
For Ventura to win his suit — and win damages (his attorneys have suggested an award of $15 million) — the jury of six men and four women must find three things:
- That Kyle's story was false.
- That it was defamatory.
- That the author knew it was false or had serious doubts about its veracity.
Jurors have deliberated nearly 30 hours over five days. At midday Monday, they seemed ready to go no further. In their note to Kyle, they said they believed "we will not come to a unanimous decision."
The judge, who is no relation to Chris Kyle, responded: "I'm going to ask you to go back one more time and have some further discussion."
He reminded jurors that if they could not reach a verdict, the case would have to be retried. There's no reason to think that the retrial would be better than the first, he said — or that another jury would reach a verdict.
But while jurors "ought to have in mind the consequences" of a deadlock, the specter of a mistrial isn't a reason for them to change their minds, Kyle said.
Near the end of the day Monday, attorneys for both sides were called to the judge's chambers. They were tight-lipped about what was discussed there, saying only that jurors had been called back for another day.
William McGeveran, a University of Minnesota law professor who has followed the trial, said a hung jury would essentially roll back the case "as if this trial didn't happen."
He said such situations sometimes renew settlement talks between parties who don't want to endure a second, costly trial.
Ventura, who was not at the courthouse Monday, could decide not to continue the lawsuit. He was pilloried in testimony from several witnesses for pressing on against an estate represented by Kyle's widow, Taya.
If there is a new trial, the two sides can adjust their strategies and rethink their choices from the first round, McGeveran said.
The jurors' note didn't specify how they were divided or where they were at loggerheads.
McGeveran said the impasse should dispel any notions that one side or the other came out of the trial with a commanding lead.
"I think it's back to being up in the air," he said.