Late Navy sniper's account of gas station killing raises questions
By DAVID HANNERS | Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. | Published: April 3, 2013
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Nobody doubts the late Chris Kyle was a trusted comrade-in-arms to his fellow Navy SEALs, a devoted family man and someone who served his country with honor.
But while former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura claims Kyle fabricated a story about punching him in a California bar in 2006, new questions have arisen about another event Kyle claimed happened, even though those who have looked into it have been unable to corroborate it.
In a profile of Kyle in its April issue, Dallas-based D Magazine recounts the tale of Kyle allegedly shooting and killing two armed men who tried to rob him and steal his truck at a gas station in 2010. The article concludes that even though a gas station's surveillance camera recorded the alleged incident, no proof has surfaced that it happened.
"I spent a lot of time looking for this video, talking to various police stations and everything was sealed up," profile author Michael Mooney said in an interview. "I didn't find any police reports, no coroner reports, nobody that could confirm that it happened in their jurisdiction."
Kyle isn't around to defend himself. On Feb. 2, he and a friend were shot dead by a former Marine at a gun range in Texas. Kyle had been trying to help the man, who suffered post-traumatic stress after serving in Iraq.
The man, who had been released from a veterans' hospital four days earlier, is now jailed on capital murder charges.
A lawyer for Ventura said the former governor will continue prosecuting the suit despite the death. David Bradley Olsen said Ventura will substitute Kyle's estate as the defendant.
He said Ventura still believes Kyle defamed him in his bestselling 2012 memoir, "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History." In the book, Kyle tells how he punched a "celebrity" he called "Scruff Face," a former Navy special forces member who was in a bar, bad-mouthing SEALs and U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Ventura isn't named, but Kyle later said "Scruff Face" was the former governor.
Ventura had served in the Navy's Underwater Demolition Teams, which later merged into the SEALs.
"Now, when he's in that community, he can't hold his head up like he used to," Olsen said of Ventura." A lot of people believe the (punch) story to be true, and he just wants to clear his name."
The trial is scheduled to begin no earlier than Aug. 1 in U.S. District Court in St. Paul.
Kyle maintained the story was true, and his acquaintances say they believed him. The case file includes depositions from fellow SEALs who were with Kyle in the Coronado, Calif., bar that night in October 2006.
John Borger, a lawyer representing Kyle, said the evidence supports Kyle's version.
"You have multiple witnesses ... that say one part or another of the story in the book as regarding Governor Ventura went down just the way it was described," Borger said.
So far, though, lawyers for Kyle have presented only one person who has sworn under oath that he saw Kyle punch Ventura. And Ventura's lawyers have presented sworn statements from several people who said it never happened.
In a legal memorandum filed in the case in November, Olsen outlined several versions of the story — some with contradictory details — told by Kyle or others who claimed they were there. Those versions appear in early drafts of the book, in the final version, in media interviews, in written responses to Ventura's questions and in sworn depositions given by Kyle and others.
Borger contends Ventura's version has changed over time, too. In a December filing, the lawyer told the judge that Ventura "has sworn to so many conflicting statements that none of them deserve any consideration."
Absent a settlement, a jury will be asked to decide whether Kyle was being truthful — or if, as Ventura claims, the story was fabricated later that night by Kyle and fellow SEALs who had had too much to drink at a wake for a fallen comrade.
The highly decorated Kyle served four tours of duty in Iraq and had at least 160 confirmed kills as a sniper, making him the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history. When he left the Navy, he moved to Texas and co-founded a security firm in Dallas.
The co-author of Kyle's book, James DeFelice, said in his deposition that he found Kyle "consistently honest and straightforward." But as Ventura and others dispute the punch story, questions have arisen about another incident Kyle is said to have talked about.
It involves Kyle shooting two men at a Texas gas station. There's nothing about it in Kyle's book, but Marcus Luttrell, another former SEAL-turned-author, gives a detailed account in his 2012 book, "Service: A Navy SEAL at War."
Luttrell wrote that Kyle had stopped at a gas station near Dallas and was filling up his truck when two men — each with a pistol — approached him and demanded his vehicle. Kyle sized them up and told them he had to reach into his truck to get the keys, Luttrell wrote.
Mooney's piece in D Magazine describes what Kyle reportedly did next:
"He turned around and reached under his winter coat instead, into his waistband. With his right hand, he grabbed his Colt 1911. He fired two shots under his left armpit, hitting the first man twice in the chest. Then he turned slightly and fired two more times, hitting the second man twice in the chest. Both men fell dead.
"Kyle leaned on his truck and waited for the police."
Mooney has written that Kyle told him the incident was true. Kyle claimed that it was caught on the gas station's surveillance video, and that when police arrived, he gave them a phone number to call, although he wouldn't say who the number belonged to.
Mooney wrote that Kyle told him the officers called the number, "were very understanding" and let him go.
Luttrell wrote that the incident "never made the news, since the town involved didn't want the publicity."
But Mooney and other reporters have been unable to corroborate the story. Mooney pinpointed the approximate locale, at a gas station near Cleburne on U.S. 67 south of Dallas, but local officials up and down the highway told him they'd never heard of the incident.
Mooney said he's been unable to find any police reports or any other records indicating the incident or anything similar took place.
Borger said the story has no bearing on Ventura's claims about Kyle's veracity. "I'm not seeing the connect between that story and lawsuit," he said.
Olsen maintains the story fits a pattern not unlike the punch story.
"He had a parade of witnesses that were supposed to back up his story, and nobody saw it," Ventura's lawyer said of Kyle's alleged punch. "Nobody heard the words spoken; nobody saw the actual fight. It's a story that took on a life of its own after a bunch of young guys went out drinking that night."
Mooney said Kyle was a remarkable person and the stuff of legend.
"His entire life is full of extraordinary stories," said Mooney.