ST. PAUL, Minn. – Jurors in former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura’s defamation lawsuit against “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle went home for the day Monday after hours of deliberations during which they told the judge at one point they didn’t think they could reach a unanimous verdict.
U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle told them to keep trying, and they continued their fifth day of discussions for roughly four more hours before breaking. Late in the afternoon, attorneys for both sides conferred privately with the judge. They would not say afterward what they discussed but said that the jury would be back at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Deliberations began last Tuesday. Around noon Monday, they sent the judge a note saying: “We the jury have not reached a unanimous decision. … We feel we will not come to a unanimous decision.”
Judge Kyle asked the jury “to go back one more time and have some further discussions,” but he told them not to lower their standards to reach a decision. He also praised them as one of the most conscientious juries he’s had in 22 years on the bench but noted the case might have to be re-tried if they remain deadlocked.
“There’s no reason to believe the case will be better tried,” said the judge, who is not related to the author.
After the jury resumed deliberations, the judge told attorneys for both sides he didn’t know what was going to happen. He said nothing to indicate how the jury might be split. By the time the jury broke for the day, their discussions had topped 31 hours.
Chris Kyle, who was regarded as the deadliest military sniper in U.S. history, wrote in his bestselling 2012 memoir that he decked Ventura in a California bar in 2006 after Ventura allegedly said Navy SEALs “deserve to lose a few.”
Ventura, a former SEAL and professional wrestler, testified that Kyle fabricated the passage about punching him and the quote. But Kyle said in testimony videotaped before his death at a Texas gun range last year that his story was accurate. The case is continuing against his widow, Taya Kyle, in her capacity of executor of his estate.
Both sides presented witnesses who backed their versions of events.
Ventura’s attorney, David Bradley Olsen, has asked for millions in damages.
Judge Kyle directed the jurors after closing arguments last week to determine first whether Chris Kyle defamed Ventura and to tackle questions regarding damages only if they agreed Ventura was libeled. According to his instructions, Ventura had to prove with “clear and convincing evidence” that Kyle either knew or believed what he wrote was untrue, or that he harboured serious doubts about its truth.
Joe Daly, professor emeritus at the Hamline University School of Law, said hung juries are rare. He speculated that these jurors were likely stuck on the defamation issue rather than damages because juries can always negotiate over how much money to award.
“I think they’re hung up on what’s true and what’s false,” Daly said. “It’s a tough case.”
If the case does end in a mistrial, Daly said Ventura has a couple options.
“He could declare victory with a hung jury,” Daly said, explaining that Ventura could say that at least some jurors saw things his way and drop the case.
Ventura could also ask for a retrial, Daly said, but it might not begin for several months and it would be expensive.
“Jesse has to decide if he wants to put down a big chunk of change again,” Daly said.