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

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A Texas jury has ruled that Infowars host Alex Jones must pay the parents of a Sandy Hook school shooting victim $45.2 million in punitive damages. Friday’s decision comes a day after the same jury awarded the plaintiffs $4.1 million in compensatory damages, capping off the final phase of a libel case first brought in 2018 over Jones’s repeated false claims 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 Friday marks the first time Jones, an influential purveyor of far-right conspiracy theories, has faced financial repercussions in court for outlandish lies he told through his Infowars broadcast about the shooting. . From the first days following the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people, including 20 young children, Jones said on his show that “no one was killed” in Sandy Hook and that the attack was a ruse “organized” by gun control advocates. to fabricate anti-gun sentiment.

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

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

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

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

Punitive damages are meant to hurt, Tobias said, so juries tend to award amounts commensurate with a defendant’s finances even though, contradictorily, many states have caps on such awards.

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

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

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

“Alex Jones cannot be separated from the companies. He is the companies,” Pettingill said.

The testimony contrasts sharply with Jones’s public statements that he is financially deprived; His defense team originally asked the jury to award the plaintiffs $1 for each claim after claiming that Jones lost millions of dollars and followers when he was launched 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’s finances as he provided no documents to the court.

Jones’s refusal to comply with court orders regarding documents and other evidence resulted in District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County, Texas, enter default judgments against Jones last September, which made him liable for all damages.

But in a dramatic moment in court Wednesday, it was revealed that Jones’s legal team inadvertently sent the content of his cell phone a lawyer to represent the parents. The apparent mistake led plaintiff’s attorney Mark Bankston to accuse Jones of lying under oath when he testified that he did not have any text messages related to the Sandy Hook massacre.

On August 3, attorney Mark Bankston accused Alex Jones of lying after matching the data with the contents of Jones’s phone. (Video: KXAN News)

During jury deliberations, Jones’ attorneys filed for a mistrial and demanded that Bankston erase the phone data given to him, which the judge denied.

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

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

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

While on the stand Tuesday, Heslin said that while she mourned her son, she also faced death threats and abuse from those who embraced Jones’s rhetoric.

Judge Maya Guerra Gamble reprimanded Infowars founder Alex Jones for lying under oath during his Travis County libel trial on August 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 due to the recklessness and negligence of Alex Jones,” Heslin told the jury.

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

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

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

Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.

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