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Ex-Minnesota governor says TV career halted by sniper's claims

Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura has testified he doesn't remember any confrontation with the "American Sniper'' author who claimed to have punched out Ventura in a bar.
Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura has testified he doesn't remember any confrontation with the "American Sniper'' author who claimed to have punched out Ventura in a bar.

By David Bailey

ST. PAUL Minn. (Reuters) - Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura told a court on Monday his annual income dropped sharply after his reputation was damaged by what he called a fictitious passage in a book by a former Navy SEAL who said the two had gotten in a bar fight.

Seeking unspecified damages for defamation, Ventura testified on Friday that he has not been in a fight since he left the Navy decades before the alleged 2006 encounter in California described by former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History," published in 2012.

Lawyers for Kyle's estate told the court on Monday Ventura's income was on the decline before the book due to waning popularity, and that the passage about the bar fight had little impact on the dwindling demand for him as a media personality.

Ventura, who was a professional wrestler and actor before entering politics, testified on Monday that his career was thriving until the book's publication, but afterward work started to wither.

"It came to a screeching halt is the best way I can put it," Ventura said. He said his income averaged about $1 million a year in the prior decade but that it dropped off after Kyle's book came out.

In the book, Kyle said he punched a celebrity he identified as "Scruff Face," who made disparaging remarks about SEALs. He identified "Scruff Face" as Ventura during interviews supporting the book's release.

Laura deShazo, a witness called by the defense, testified a fight took place at a wake in a bar for a SEAL and she saw the former governor get hit in a scuffle, but she did not identify who struck Ventura.

"I saw Mr. Ventura get hit," she said.

Kyle, killed in 2013 at a Texas shooting range by a troubled Iraq war veteran, said in a videotaped deposition played for jurors he punched Ventura, describing him as loud and belligerent.

On Friday, Ventura testified he had no recollection of Kyle.

Ventura, a former member of the Naval Special Forces Underwater Demolition/SEAL teams, sued Kyle in 2012, contending the fight never happened.

After Kyle's death, Ventura named his wife, Taya Kyle, as defendant in the lawsuit. "American Sniper" has generated more than $2.5 million in royalties.

(Reporting by David Bailey; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Will Dunham, Steve Orlofsky and Mohammad Zargham)

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