Apparently, as a war veteran, I am supposed to be siding with Chris Kyle's widow in the defamation lawsuit by former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.
Just can't do it.
Kyle was a former Navy SEAL who claims to be the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. In his autobiography, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” he said he had 160 confirmed kills out of 255 claimed kills. A claim, by the way, that has never been confirmed by the military. If true, that would beat the record held by Army Staff Sgt. Adelbert F. Waldron III who had 109 confirmed kills during the Vietnam War. Kyle even claimed to have killed one person near Sadr City in 2008 from 2,100 yards away.
All that might be true. Still, Kyle has made some other claims that seem far-fetched. For example, he claimed to have killed 30 looters from atop the Superdome in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. No one has been able to confirm that claim. He also claimed to have shot and killed two would-be robbers in Dallas. Again, no one has been able to confirm that claim.
The relevant fact, though, is that Kyle, who was murdered last year at the age of 38, claimed in his book that Ventura, a former Navy SEAL himself, made some disparaging remarks about the war and about the SEALs in a California bar in 2006 and that Kyle punched him.
Kyle did not name Ventura in the book, he just called him Scruff Face and identified him as a celebrity. However, in at least two television interviews, he admitted that he was referring to Ventura.
Ventura admitted to have been in that particular bar, a SEAL hangout, but said he was never punched there and had never met Kyle. Ventura said he never would have sued if Kyle simply admitted the story was fabricated and apologized.
I am certainly no fan of Ventura. Some of his political positions are right on. Some come out of left field.
Still, he is getting a bum rap, at least in the social media realm, especially from veterans who are posting memes of Ventura that paint him as essentially going after a poor widow.
But that is nonsense.
I don't know if Kyle defamed Ventura. That is not important. What is important is that Ventura felt defamed and exercised his constitutional right to sue Kyle for that defamation.
When Kyle was murdered last year, Ventura did not drop his lawsuit. Why should he? The defamation, if that is what it was, had already occurred. Kyle's death changed nothing.
In the end, eight of the 10 jurors believed Ventura's claim and awarded him $1.85 million Tuesday.
And that is when the Ventura hating really took off. He was wrongly depicted as going after the poor grieving widow and her two children.
The reality is, he did not sue the widow. He sued Kyle in 2012. And when Kyle died, the lawsuit continued against the estate. He has a right to recover from the estate. And it is a sizable one. Profits from the book were somewhere between $3 million and $6 million depending on the source.
Defenders of Kyle claim all those proceeds went to help veterans groups. Not true. Kyle's widow, Taya, testified that she and her husband wanted to donate the money but that gift tax laws prevented it.
The key here, though, is that if Kyle defamed Ventura, then Kyle was wrongly enriched anyway and that money did not belong to him or to the estate or to the grieving widow. She shouldn't be able to keep all the proceeds any more than say a bank robber's widow should be able to keep the profits from that illegal enterprise.
Nor does the court victory undo the defamation, as David B. Olsen, Ventura's lawyer, told a throng of reporters: “He's certainly grateful to the jury for their verdict, but his reputation with an entire generation of young SEALs may never be repaired and that's why he says that there's no winner here.”
Except, of course, the lawyers.