A Texas jury has decided to award Alex Jones $45.2 million in punitive damages in a lawsuit brought by the parents of Sandy Hook shooting victim Jesse Lewis.
The award, which the judge could reduce, came a day after the jury awarded $4.1 million in compensatory damages.
Jurors began deliberating around 12:30 a.m. CT on Friday, after Judge Maya Guerra Gamble reminded them that in a default judgment against him, Jones had previously been found guilty of defamation and “intentionally inflicting emotional distress.” to Lewis’s parents, Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin.
In an emotional closing argument on Friday, Lewis and Heslin’s attorney, Wesley Todd Ball, told the jury: ‘We’re asking you to send a very, very simple message, which is, arrest Alex Jones. Stop monetizing misinformation and lies. Please.”
Ball urged jurors to “dissuade Alex Jones from doing this horror again” and “dissuade others who might want to put themselves in his shoes”.
Jones’ attorney, Federico Andino Reynal, argued for a much lower sum, suggesting jurors should multiply Jones’ alleged hourly earnings of $14,000 and the 18 hours he says Jones talked about Sandy Hook on Infowars, for a sum of around a quarter of a million dollars.
In the first phase of the trial on Thursday, the jury awarded the parents $4.1 million in compensatory damages, an amount well below the $150 million sought by the parents’ attorneys. In his closing argument, Ball thanked the jury for their decision to award the $4.1 million, saying it had already made a huge difference in the parents’ lives, and asked them to award enough damages- punitive interest to bring the total to $150 million.
Punitive damages are a form of punishment for the behavior of an accused. Jones, the head of conspiratorial media outlet Infowars, has repeatedly lied about the Sandy Hook massacre. It fueled conspiracy theories about the victims and their families, prompting multiple libel lawsuits. He has since acknowledged that the mass shooting took place.
Jones claimed in his testimony that a jury award of just $2 million would destroy him financially. But on Friday morning, jurors heard testimony about Jones’ wealth from an economist, Bernard Pettingill, Jr., who estimated Jones had a net worth of between $135 million and $270 million.
Pettingill, Jr., who reviewed several years of records for Free Speech Systems, Jones’ parent company, and Infowars, said Jones used a series of shell companies to hide his money.
Jones used two major loans to make it look like he was broke when in fact he wasn’t, Pettingill, Jr. testified.
“Alex Jones knows where the money is, he knows where that money has gone, and he knows he’s going to benefit from that money eventually,” Pettingill, Jr.
After one of the jurors asked what the difference was between Jones’ money and his company’s money, Pettingill, Jr. said, “You can’t separate Alex Jones from the companies. It’s business.
Jones “monetized his shtick,” he added, even suggesting Jones could teach a college course on his techniques.
Jones’ fearmongering rants about Infowars have, for many years, been associated with advertisements for supplements, documentaries, and other products sold by Infowars. Pettingill, Jr. said the money was paid, identifying nine different companies owned by Jones.
“He’s a very successful man, he’s propagated hate speech and misinformation, but he’s made a lot of money and he’s monetized it,” Pettingill, Jr. said on the stand. “I think of him is that he didn’t ride a wave, he created the wave.”
Jones testified earlier in the week about his alleged financial troubles after social media giants like Facebook and Twitter banned his content from their platforms.
“I remember telling him that, but the records don’t reflect that,” Pettingill, Jr.
During closing arguments, Ball claimed that Jones had even more money stashed elsewhere and argued that $4.1 million was a drop in the proverbial bucket for Jones. “He’s probably already come back thanks to donations” from fans, Ball said.