US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre $45.2 million in punitive damages – on top of $4.1 million already paid – for falsely claiming the shooting was a hoax, a Texas jury decided Friday.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the estranged parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, testified that Jones’ followers tortured them and made death threats over the years for lying about their son’s death on Dec. 14. 2012, 20 children and six staff members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The 12 judges decided on punitive damages after a two-week trial in the defamation case, presided over by Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, in state court in Austin, Texas, where Jones’ radio show and far-right webcast are based.
Jones, a prominent figure in American right-wing circles and a supporter of former President Donald Trump, called the Sandy Hook massacre a fraud by the US government, which used crisis actors as an excuse to take away Americans’ guns.
After the verdict, Lewis told reporters that the verdict showed that “we can choose love,” adding: “We are all responsible for each other.”
The parents had sought $145.9 million in punitive damages and $150 million in compensatory damages. Damages are awarded to compensate the plaintiff for suffering and loss. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the defendant’s actions.
Jones’ attorney, Federico Andino Reynal, had asked the jury to return a verdict of $270,000 in punitive damages based on the number of hours he devoted to Sandy Hook coverage.
Outside the courthouse, Renal told reporters that the verdict was high but that Texas law caps a defendant at $750,000 in punitive damages.
Reynal later told Reuters that he aims to reduce compensatory damages throughout the trial, knowing there is a cap on punitive damages.
“We always knew it was going to be a backstop, so the strategy worked,” Renal said, referring to the cap.
Punitive damages were set at $4.2 million, questioning whether Jones should pay Heslin and Lewis $20.5 million each for emotional distress after Jones defamed Heslin because he held his dead son after the shooting.
“We ask that you send a very simple message and that is: stop Alex Jones. Stop monetizing misinformation and lies,” parents’ attorney Wesley Todd Ball told jurors Friday before beginning deliberations on punitive damages.
Jones tried to distance himself from conspiracy theories during his testimony at the trial, apologizing to parents and admitting that Sandy Hook was “100% real”.
Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza used a Remington Bushmaster rifle during the massacre, which ended when he killed himself as police sirens sounded.
‘A really bad actor’
The judge admonished Jones during the trial for not telling the truth when testifying about his bankruptcy and for not complying with requests for documents.
Defamation trial attorney Doug Mirrell, who is not involved in the case, said the question of Jones’ veracity on the witness stand could play a role in the jury’s award of punitive damages, noting that it is unusual to award significantly more punitive than compensatory damages. damage
“The jurors may have met their revulsion by lying and decided that Mr. Jones was a really bad actor,” Mirrell told Reuters.
Forensic economist Bernard Pettingill testified Friday that Jones and Infowars were worth a combined $135 million and $270 million.
Jones’ company, Free Speech Systems LLC, filed for bankruptcy last week. Jones said during Monday’s broadcast that the filing will help the company stay on the air during the appeal.
The bankruptcy declaration halts a defamation lawsuit by Sandy Hook parents in Connecticut, where it has already been found liable, as in Texas. The bankruptcy will halt another defamation lawsuit filed by the parents of Sandy Hook in Texas, Reynal told Reuters.
During closing arguments Wednesday, the parents’ attorney, Kyle Farrar, pleaded with jurors to put an end to their nightmare, holding Jones responsible for profiting from their son’s death. Renal acknowledged during his closing argument that Jones and InfoWorld reported on Sandy Hook “irresponsibly” but said his client was not responsible for the harassment.
Prosecutors have accused Jones of going to trial in bad faith, saying the case against him was rigged and that the jury pool was filled with people who “don’t know what planet they’re on.”
Reynal vowed Friday that Jones would continue to do his job “holding the power structure accountable.”
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