Nueva York (CNN Business) — Right-wing talk show host Alex Jones will have to pay more than $4 million in compensatory damages to the parents of the Sandy Hook shooting victim, a jury decided Thursday, capping a surprising and dramatic case that has publicly Shows the real world damage done by Viral. conspiracy theories.
The plaintiffs, Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, sought $150 million in compensatory damages when the trial began.
A separate, shorter trial is now expected during which punitive damages will be discussed. Punitive damages are awarded when the court finds the defendant’s behavior to be particularly offensive.
The jury’s decision is the partial end of a year-long process that began in 2018 when Lewis and Heslin sued Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, the parent of right-wing media organization Infowars.
Jones’ baseless claim was staged after the Sandy Hook shooting, in which 26 people were killed, was staged. Facing multiple lawsuits, Jones later admitted that the shooting had taken place. He testified in court this week that he now believed it was “100% real.”
But Jones failed to comply with court orders during the trial’s search process. His failure to do so resulted in Heslin and Lewis winning default decisions against Jones.
Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled in October that Jones was legally responsible for causing emotional distress on Heslin and Lewis. Gamble also ruled that Jones was responsible for defaming Heslin.
The decision to punish Jones in this way also marks a seismic moment in American society, where lies and conspiracy theories have flourished in recent years.
The jury’s decision sends a clear message to those who spread lies in public conversation, whether for political power or financial gain, that such behavior can have consequences.
Lawyers for the Sandy Hook family argued before the jury during their opening and closing arguments, “Freedom of expression is free, but lies must be paid for.”
“I’m a real mom”
During the trial, Heslin and Lewis gave emotional testimony to jurors saying that the lies that Jones propagated tarnished their son Jesse’s legacy and haunted him for years.
Sometimes fighting back to tears, Heslin told jurors that Jones, through his conspiratorial media organization Infowars, had “stained the honor and legacy” of his son. Heslin said she “can’t begin to describe the hell of the past 9 1/2 years” she has endured because of Jones, describing in detail how she fears for herself and her family’s safety.
In a notable moment on the court, Lewis spoke directly to Jones and told him that he wanted to address it to his face.
“Jesse was real,” Lewis told Jones. “I’m a real mom.”
Lewis told the jury that he thought the money damage was justified in this case because he did not think Jones would stop behaving otherwise.
“No sincere apologies have been made,” he said. “But if ever there was, I’d compare it to being in a car accident and you run into someone and inflict tremendous physical damage and you see that person lying on the ground and say, ‘I’m so sorry. ‘I’m like I’m sorry, I’m not responsible. I’m responsible for the damage I just did. But I’m sorry.’ That’s how I see it”.
Lewis also reflected on what this meant should the test ever take place.
“I find it unbelievable that we have to do this,” Lewis told Jones. “That we have to beg you – not only to beg you, but to punish you – to stop lying … what’s happening here is real.”
Testing in Texas is one of three to be revealed in the coming months.
A separate group of Sandy Hook families sued Jones in Connecticut. Those families also won a lawsuit against Jones, and a trial is set to begin in September. But jury selection was suspended on the same day it began earlier this week and the trial could be delayed due to the Free Speech System filing for bankruptcy.
Lawyers representing some Sandy Hook families have accused Jones of clearing free speech system assets in recent years as part of an effort to protect themselves from potential judgments they may be ordered to pay.
One of the attorneys, Avi Moschenberg, told CNN Tuesday that Free Speech Systems’ bankruptcy filing indicated that $62 million in company assets were withdrawn in 2021 and 2022.
“If you look at the bankruptcy filing that led to the bankruptcy filing, Alex Jones, sole proprietor [de Free Speech Systems], took $62 million in drawings in 2021 and 2022,” Moschenberg told CNN. “It just draws straight. So the company has some assets.”