Alex Jones Trial Live Updates: Jury to Consider Punitive Damages

AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas jury on Thursday awarded the parents of a child killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School more than $4 million in compensatory damages from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the first time holds him financially responsible for defaming the victims’ parents by spreading lies that they were complicit in a government plot to stage the shooting as a pretext for gun control.

The decision was the first in a series of possible awards against Mr. Jones. On Friday, the jury will consider evidence of Mr. Jones’s net worth to determine how much he will award parents, Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, in punitive damages, if any.

Two more trials of the Sandy Hook parents seeking damages from Mr. Jones have been scheduled for next month, though they may be delayed because their company declared bankrupt In the past week.

Mr. Jones has become increasingly emblematic of how misinformation and false narratives have gained traction in American society. He has played a role in spreading some of the most pernicious conspiracy theories in recent history, like pizzagate — in which an Infowars video helped inspire a gunman to attack a pizza parlor in Washington, DC — as well as coronavirus myths and “Stop the Steal” falsehoods about voter fraud before the assault on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021.

The verdict came after days of emotional testimony, including 90 Minutes on Tuesday, when Ms Lewis personally addressed Mr Jones and asked him why he knowingly spread lies about the death of his son, Jesse, 6 years old, who died along with 19 other first. students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“Jesse was a real boy. And I’m a real mom,” Mrs. Lewis told Mr. Jones. Later she admonished him: “Alex, I want you to listen to this. We are more polarized than ever as a country. Some of that is thanks to you.

But the most explosive revelation came on Wednesday, when the family’s lawyer, Mark Bankston, revealed that Mr. Jones’s legal team had mistakenly sent him the entire contents of Mr. Jones’s cell phone, including at least two years of incriminating text messages that are now of interest to the House committee investigating the attack on Capitol Hill. The committee is examining Mr. Jones’s role in planning events related to the insurrection, and Mr. Bankston is now seeking the approval of the judge to deliver the text records to the prosecutors and committee on January 6.

Ms. Lewis and Mr. Heslin had requested $150 million in damages, and Mr. Bankston said he was optimistic about what the jury would award on Friday. “You can probably imagine that if a jury returns a verdict that exceeds $4 million for these plaintiffs in compensatory damages, I think the punishment will probably be in that range or higher,” Bankston said. “I think it is perfectly expected that we will see a nine-figure trial against Mr. Jones.”

He added: “It’s been a long journey, and it’s very, very nice to be able to turn and look at my clients and say ‘you can’t get away with this. he can’t. You had a defendant walk into the courtroom and say, ‘I think I should pay them a dollar.’ And this jury said no.”

Mr. Jones said in his bankruptcy filing that he had so far paid $15 million in legal costs for the Sandy Hook litigation. Citing the damages that Ms. Lewis and Mr. Heslin had sought, Mr. Jones called the award a “big win” in a video posted on Infowars Thursday night, even as he urged viewers to buy products of his website to avoid what he portrayed as financial ruin.

“I admitted that I was wrong,” he said. “I admitted that it was a mistake. I admitted that I followed the misinformation but not on purpose. I apologized to the families. And the jury got it.”

Mr. Jones lost a series of Sandy Hook defamation lawsuits by default last year after repeatedly failing to provide court-ordered documents and testimony. Those rulings set the stage for the trial this summer.

More important than money, Sandy Hook families have said, is society’s verdict on a culture in which viral misinformation harms lives and destroy reputations.

“Speech is free, but lies must be paid for,” Bankston told the jury last week. “This is a case about creating change.”

At the center of the trial was a June 2017 episode of NBC’s “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” that profiled Mr. Jones. On the broadcast, Mr. Heslin protested Mr. Jones’s denial of the shooting. He recalled his last moments with Jesse and said, “I held my son with a bullet hole in his head.”

Subsequently, Mr. Jones and Owen Shroyer, an Infowars host, aired programs implying that Mr. Heslin had lied.

“Will there be a clarification from Heslin or Megyn Kelly?” Shroyer told Infowars. “I wouldn’t hold your breath.”

During the trial, Mr. Jones’ attorney, F. Andino Reynal, said that Mr. Jones was essentially conducting his own defense. After much uncertainty as to whether the conspiracy announcer would testify, he insisted that he appear as the sole witness in his defense.

Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis deployed a variety of experts. The trial began with testimony from Dan Jewiss, a retired Connecticut State Police investigator who led the Sandy Hook case; a forensic psychiatrist and the psychologist who treated Mr. Heslin and Mrs. Lewis; and several Infowars employees, whose dubious statements allowed family attorneys to present evidence damaging to Mr. Jones, including a televised version of the full interview with Ms. Kelly, in which Mr. Jones made inflammatory false claims. .

Mr. Jones’s viewership and corresponding revenues have grown dramatically, to more than $50 million annually, in the decade since Sandy Hook.

His defense of the Second Amendment after the mass shooting garnered the attention of major news organizations. But it was Jones’s alliance with former President Donald J. Trump, who appeared on Infowars in December 2015, that brought him from the far right to the center of GOP populism.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Trump have often echoed the same false and inflammatory claims, including the racist lie that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States; that Muslims in the New York area “celebrated” the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; and the 2020 election falsehoods that brought violence to Capitol Hill last year.

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