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'American Sniper' says punched ex-Minnesota governor Ventura

By Todd Melby

ST. PAUL Minn. (Reuters) - A Navy SEAL accused of defaming former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura and who died last year said in a videotaped deposition played Wednesday at a trial that he encountered a loud and belligerent Ventura at a bar in 2006 and punched him.

Chris Kyle, who was killed in 2013 at a Texas shooting range by a troubled Iraq war veteran, said in the deposition recorded in November 2012 and played for jurors that he was not worried about Ventura's lawsuit.

"You can't defeat the truth," Kyle said.

At the heart of the trial, which began Tuesday, is whether any such confrontation happened.

Kyle said in his best-selling book, "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History," and in later interviews he punched Ventura in the face after the former governor made disparaging remarks about SEALs.

Ventura, himself a former member of the Naval Special Forces Underwater Demolition/SEAL teams, sued Kyle in 2012, contending the encounter Kyle described never happened and the account had caused Ventura financial losses.

In the deposition, Kyle said he was attending a wake at the bar for a fallen SEAL and asked Ventura and others with him to lower their voices or take their discussion elsewhere.

Ventura was "complaining about the war, that we shouldn't be there, how Bush was a war criminal, killing innocent women and children overseas," Kyle said.

Outside the bar, Kyle said in the video, "I took a step back. He took a step forward. I thought he was fixin' to hit me."

"I punched him," Kyle said. "He fell backwards. I took off."

Kyle's widow, Taya Kyle testified Wednesday her husband was truthful and humble and they were planning to give away proceeds from the "American Sniper" book.

The book has generated more than $2.5 million in royalties split between Kyle, his agent and co-authors.

Kyle described in the book a confrontation with a man he identified only as "Scruff Face," who insisted that SEALs serving in Iraq had not suffered enough casualties. He quoted "Scruff Face" as saying: "You deserve to lose a few." In later media interviews, Kyle said "Scruff Face" was Ventura.

After Chris Kyle's death, Ventura named his wife, Taya Kyle, as defendant in the lawsuit as the overseer of his estate.

Ventura, a former professional wrestler and actor who served as Minnesota's governor from 1999 to 2003, has not specified a damage amount in his lawsuit. He is expected to testify in the trial, which is expected to last about three weeks.

The jury is being asked to determine if Kyle's statements were false and, because Ventura is a public figure, whether Kyle made them with actual malice.

(Editing by David Bailey, Eric Beech and Eric Walsh)

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