AUSTIN, Texas ( Associated Press) – A Texas jury on Friday ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a child killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Adding in the $4.1 million he would have to pay for the suffering he caused them for years by claiming that the nation’s deadliest school shooting was a hoax.
The total – $49.3 million – is less than the $150 million demanded by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among 20 children and six teachers who died in the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut attack . But the trial marks the first time Jones has been held financially liable. To spread lies about the massacre, claiming it was faked by the government to tighten gun laws.
Later, Lewis said that Jones – who was not in the courtroom to hear the verdict – has been held accountable. She said that when she took the stand and looked Jones in the eye, she thought of her son, who was credited with saving a life by shouting “run” when the killer stopped in his rage.
“He stood up for bully Adam Lanza and saved the lives of nine of his classmates,” Lewis said. “I hope I did justice to the incredible courage I had when I was able to confront Alex Jones, who is also a bully. I hope this inspires other people to do the same.”
It may take some time for the plaintiff to collect anything. Jones’ lead attorney, Andino Renal, told the judge he would appeal and asked the courts to significantly reduce the size of the verdict.
After the hearing, Renal said he expected the penalty amount to be reduced to $1.5 million.
‘We think the verdict was too much. … Alex Jones will be on air today, he will be on air tomorrow, he will be on air next week. He will continue to do his job by holding the power structure accountable.”
Jones’ companies and personal assets can also be decimated by other lawsuits and bankruptcy. Another defamation lawsuit against Jones by the Sandy Hook family is set to begin pre-trial hearings on September 14 in the same Austin court. He faces another defamation lawsuit in Connecticut.
Plaintiff’s attorney, Mark Bankston, said he believes he can challenge any attempt to minimize damages. But he said that even if the award is cut heavily, it is just as important as making a big decision in bankruptcy court for the family to file a claim against Jones’ assets and the company.
Jones testified this week that any award over $2 million would “overwhelm us.” His company Free Speech Systems, the Austin-based parent company of Infowars, filed for bankruptcy protection during the first week of the trial.
Punitive damages are meant to punish defendants for particularly serious conduct, which goes beyond the monetary compensation paid to the persons they hurt. A higher punitive award is also seen as a way to send a wider social message to jurors and to deter others from the same hateful conduct in the future.
Barry Secret, a Buffalo, New York, First Amendment attorney with no connection to the Jones case, said the amount of the total damages amounted to “a surprising loss to Jones.”
“With $50 million in all, the jury has sent a big, loud message that this behavior will not be tolerated,” Gupta said. “Everyone with a show like this who intentionally lies – the jury won’t tolerate it.”
Future jurors in other pending Sandy Hook trials may see the damages amount as a benchmark in this case, Gupta said. If other juries do, Gupta said, “it could put Jones out of business.”
The family’s lawyers had urged jurors to pay a financial penalty that would force Infowars to close.
“You have the ability to stop this guy from ever doing this again,” parents’ attorney Wesley Ball told the jury on Friday. “Send a message to those who want to do the same: Speech is free. Lie, you pay. ,
One economist testified that Jones and company were worth up to $270 million.
Bernard Pettingill, who was hired by plaintiffs to study Jones’ net worth, said records show Jones withdrew $62 million for himself in 2021, when the default judgments in the lawsuits against him continue. were done.
“That number, in my opinion, represents the value of a net worth,” Pettingill said. “They put money in a bank account somewhere.”
But Jones’ lawyers said his client had already learned his lesson. He argued for a penalty amount of less than $300,000.
“You have already sent a message. A message for the first time, to all talk show hosts, for a talk show host, that their standard of care has to change,” Renal said.
Friday’s loss drew praise from the American Federation of Teachers’ Union, which represents teachers in Sandy Hook.
“Nothing will ever heal the pain of losing a child, or to see a tragedy that was denied for political reasons. But I am glad the parents of Sandy Hook have got some justice,” Union president Randy Weingarten said in a tweet.
Lawyers for the Sandy Hook families suing Jones argue that they have tried to hide evidence of their real assets at various shell companies.
During his testimony, Jones was confronted with a memo from one of his business managers, outlining $800,000 a day’s gross revenue from selling vitamin supplements and other products through his website, roughly $800,000 a year. will reach $300 million. Jones called it a record sales day.
Jones, who has portrayed the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights, Admitted during trial that the attack was “100% genuine” And it was wrong to lie about him. But Heslin and Lewis told the jurors that an apology would not suffice and asked Jones to pay for the years he and other Sandy Hook families suffered.
The parents told jurors they had endured a decade of trauma, preceded by their son’s murder and what followed: shots fired at a house, online and phone threats, and street attacks by strangers was harassed. He said the threats and harassment were all instigated by Jones and that his conspiracy theory was spread to his followers through Infowars.
A forensic psychiatrist testified that the parent suffered from “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” resulting from ongoing trauma, as may be experienced by a soldier in war or a child abuse victim.
Throughout the trial, Jones was his generally bombastic self., talking about conspiracies on the witness stand, during instant news conferences, and on his shows. His erratic behavior is unusual by court standards, and the judge rebuked him at one point, saying: “It’s not your show.”
The test also attracted attention outside of Austin.
Bankston told the court on Thursday that the US House Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 uprising US Capitol has requested records from Jones’ phone that Jones’ attorneys mistakenly handed over to plaintiffs. Bankston later said he planned to comply with the committee’s request.
As of Friday, Bankston said, he had “a subpoena while sitting at my desk” from the January 6 committee. But he said he needed to “lower expectations” that it might reveal texts about the rebellion because it appears to have been scrapped for data in mid-2020.
Bankston said he also has a “law enforcement” interest in the phone data, but declined to elaborate.
Last month, the House Committee Graphic and violent text messages showed up and played videos of right-wing figures, including Jones, and others vowed that January 6 would be the day they fight for Trump.
The committee first summoned Jones in November.Demanded a statement and documents related to his attempts to spread misinformation about the 2020 election and a rally on the day of the attack.
Associated Press writers Michael Tarm in Chicago and Susan High in Norwich, Connecticut contributed to this report.
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