AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas jury on Friday ordered Infowars’ Alex Jones to pay $49.3 million in total damages to the parents of a freshman student killed in the school massacre. Sandy Hook primary in 2012, which the conspiracy theorist falsely called a hoax. orchestrated by the government to strengthen US gun laws.
The amount is less than the $150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among 20 children and six educators killed in the deadliest classroom shooting in state history. -United. The lawsuit is the first time Jones has been held financially responsible for peddling lies about the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.
Jurors first awarded Heslin and Lewis $4.1 million in compensatory damages, which Jones called a major victory. But in the final phase of the two-week trial, the same Austin jury came back and added another $45.2 million in punitive damages.
Earlier this week, Jones said any award above $2 million would “sink us”. His company Free Speech Systems, which is the parent company of Infowars, filed for bankruptcy during the first week of the trial.
Punitive damages are intended to punish defendants for particularly egregious conduct, beyond the monetary compensation awarded to those they injured. A high punitive award is also seen as a chance for jurors to send a broader societal message and a way to deter others from the same heinous conduct in the future.
Lawyers for the family had urged jurors to issue a financial penalty that would put Infowars out of business.
“You have the ability to stop this man from doing it again,” Wesley Ball, the parents’ attorney, told the jury. “Send the message to those who wish to do the same: speech is free. Lies, you pay.
An economist hired by the plaintiffs testified that Jones and the company were worth up to $270 million, suggesting that Jones was still making money.
Bernard Pettingill, who was hired by the plaintiffs to study Jones’ net worth, said records show Jones withdrew $62 million for himself in 2021 when default judgments were issued in lawsuits against him.
“That number represents, in my opinion, the value of a net worth,” Pettingill said. “He has money in a bank account somewhere.”
Money flowing into Jones’ businesses eventually reaches him, said Pettingill, who added that he had testified in about 1,500 cases in his career.
But lawyers for Jones said their client had already learned his lesson and asked for leniency. The jury’s sentence should be less than $300,000, attorney Andino Reynal said.
“You have already sent a message. A message for the first time to a talk show host, to all talk show hosts, that their standard of care needs to change,” Reynal said.
Jones – who was briefly in the courtroom on Friday but not there for the verdict – still faces two more libel lawsuits from the Sandy Hook families in Texas and Connecticut that jeopardize his personal wealth and his media empire.
Lawyers for the Sandy Hook families who are suing Jones allege he tried to hide evidence of his true wealth and sued him, claiming he tried to hide money at various front companies.
During his testimony, Jones was confronted with a memo from one of his business managers detailing a single day’s gross income of $800,000 from the sale of vitamin supplements and other products. via its website, which would approach nearly $300 million in one year. Jones called it a record selling day.
Jones, who described the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights, conceded during the trial that the attack was “100% real” and that he was wrong for lying about it. But Heslin and Lewis told jurors an apology would not be enough and called on them to make Jones pay for the years of pain he caused them and the other Sandy Hook families.
Parents told jurors how they endured a decade of trauma, inflicted first by the murder of their son and what followed: shots fired at a house, online and phone threats and harassment in the street by strangers. They said the threats and harassment were all fueled by Jones and that his conspiracy theory spread to his followers through his Infowars website.
A forensic psychiatrist testified that the parents suffered from “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” inflicted by ongoing trauma, similar to what a soldier at war or an abused child might feel.
Throughout the trial, Jones was his typically explosive self, talking about conspiracies on the witness stand, at impromptu press conferences and on his show. His erratic behavior is unusual by courtroom standards, and the judge chastised him, at one point telling him, “This isn’t your show.”
The lawsuit has also drawn attention from outside Austin.
Bankston told the court on Thursday that the United States House committee investigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol had requested records of Jones’ phone indicating that Jones’ lawyers had mistakenly turned over to the complainants. Bankston later said he planned to comply with the committee’s request.
Last month, the January 6 committee showed graphic and violent text messages and released videos of right-wing figures, including Jones, and others swearing that January 6 would be the day they would fight for Trump.
The committee first subpoenaed Jones in November, demanding a deposition and documents related to his efforts to spread misinformation about the 2020 election and a rally on the day of the attack.
Find full AP coverage of the Alex Jones trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/alex-jones