Alex Jones must pay Sandy Hook parents $45.2 million more in punitive damages

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A Texas jury has determined that Infowars host Alex Jones should pay the parents of a Sandy Hook school shooting victim $45.2 million in punitive damages. Friday’s ruling comes a day after the same jury awarded plaintiffs $4.1 million in compensatory damages, culminating the final phase of a defamation case first brought in 2018 over the repeated false claims Jones that the deadliest elementary school shooting in US history was a hoax.

Jones was not in court when the jury read the unanimous verdict.

The damages phase of the trial that ended on Friday marks the first time Jones, an influential purveyor of far-right conspiracy theories, has faced financial repercussions in court for the outlandish lies he told. told via his Infowars show about the shooting. From the first days after the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people, including 20 young children, Jones has said on his show that “no one died” at Sandy Hook and that the attack was a ruse “implemented. scene” by gun control advocates to manufacture anti-gun sentiment.

Alex Jones must pay Sandy Hook parents $4.1 million, jury hears

In the case brought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, the damages award hints at what Jones could face in the coming months in his other libel cases Sandy Hook in Texas and in Connecticut.

It remains to be seen how much punitive damages parents will ultimately receive when Texas law caps such awards per plaintiff at twice the compensatory award plus $750,000, according to Carl Tobias, a tort law expert at the University of Richmond Law School.

This calculation means plaintiffs could see less than a quarter of the total award determined by the jury, and that amount could be reduced even further if the compensatory damages are for non-economic reasons, such as emotional distress rather than lost wages, Tobias said. .

Punitive damages are meant to sting, Tobias said, so juries tend to award sums commensurate with the defendant’s finances despite the fact that many states contradictorily have caps on such awards.

“The theory is that the damage is supposed to be significant enough to deter the person who did it – and other members of society,” he said.

On Friday, jurors heard additional testimony about Jones’ finances before beginning deliberations on how much would punish Jones for his lies and deter him from repeating them.

In court on Friday, Bernard Pettingill, Jr., a forensic economist and former professor of economics at the Florida Institute of Technology, said he estimated the combined net worth of Jones and his business entities at between $135 million and $270 million. .

“You can’t separate Alex Jones from business. It’s the businesses,” Pettingill said.

The testimony contrasts sharply with Jones’ public statements that he is financially bereft; his defense team initially asked the jury to award the plaintiffs $1 for each claim after claiming Jones lost millions of dollars and subscribers when he was kicked out of social media platforms like YouTube and Spotify.

Free Speech Systems, the parent company of the Infowars website, filed for bankruptcy during the trial, although Pettingill and other witnesses said it was impossible to fully examine Jones’ finances because he did not provide documents in court.

Jones’ refusal to comply with court orders regarding documents and other evidence led Travis County, Texas, District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble to issue default judgments against Jones last September, which held liable for all damages.

But on Wednesday, in a dramatic moment in the courtroom, it was revealed that Jones’ legal team had inadvertently sent the contents of his cellphone to an attorney representing the parents. The apparent blunder led the plaintiff’s attorney, Mark Bankston, to accuse Jones of lying under oath when he testified that he had no text messages related to the Sandy Hook massacre.

On August 3, attorney Mark Bankston accused Alex Jones of lying after cross-checking the facts with the contents of Jones’ phone. (Video: KXAN News)

During jury deliberations, Jones’ attorneys requested a mistrial and demanded that Bankston delete the phone data they had turned over, which the judge refused.

Jones’ attorneys said the legal battle against him was an attack on First Amendment rights, while the parents’ legal team argued his rhetoric was defamatory and unprotected.

Sandy Hook lawyers say Alex Jones lawyers accidentally gave them the contents of his phone

Heslin and Lewis testified during the nearly two-week defamation phase of the case that Jones’ relentless false claims that their son never died and that they were ‘crisis actors’ had created a “living hell” for them.

While on the stand Tuesday, Heslin said he mourned his son, he also faced death threats and abuse from those who embraced Jones’ rhetoric.

Judge Maya Guerra Gamble reprimanded Infowars founder Alex Jones for lying under oath during his Travis County libel trial on Aug. 2, 2022. (Video: The Washington Post)

“I can’t even describe the last nine and a half years, the hell that I and others have had to endure because of the recklessness and negligence of Alex Jones,” Heslin told the jury.

In closing arguments Friday, Bankston said jurors were tasked with punishing and deterring Jones with their verdict and implored them to use their vote to “stop Alex Jones.”

“Truly, you have the ability today to stop this man from doing it again: from continuing to tear at the fabric of our society for the great monetary gain he has received so far,” Bankston said.

“Speech is free,” he added. “Lies, you pay.”

Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.

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