Jury awards $45.2 million in punitive damages in Alex Jones Sandy Hook trial

Aug 5 (Reuters) – U.S. 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 the $4.1 million dollars in compensatory damages already awarded – for falsely claiming the shooting was a hoax, a Texas jury decided Friday.

Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, estranged parents of slain 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, testified that Jones supporters harassed them and sent them death threats for years in the false belief that they were lying about their son’s death on 14 March. december. 2012 shooting that killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The 12-member juror decided on punitive damages a day after determining compensatory damages following a two-week trial in the defamation lawsuit presided over by Judge Maya Guerra Gamble in state court in the Texas capital, Austin, where Jones’s radio show and Far-right webcast are based on Infowars.

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Jones, a leading figure in American right-wing circles and a supporter of former President Donald Trump, called the Sandy Hook massacre a US government hoax staged using crisis actors as a pretext to take away Americans’ guns.

After the verdict, Lewis told reporters that the outcome of the trial 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. Compensatory damages are awarded to cover the plaintiff’s suffering and losses. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the defendant’s actions.

An attorney for Jones, Federico Andino Reynal, had asked the jury to return a verdict of $270,000 in punitive damages based on the number of hours Infowars spent covering Sandy Hook.

Outside the courthouse, Reynal told reporters the verdict was high, but Texas law limits punitive damages to $750,000 per plaintiff.

Reynal later told Reuters that his goal was to minimize compensatory damages throughout the trial knowing there is a limit to punitive damages.

“We always knew he was going to be a backup, so the strategy worked,” Reynal said, referring to the cap.

Punitive damages were set at $4.2 million for Jones for defaming Heslin by questioning his holding their dead son after the shooting and $20.5 million each for Heslin and Lewis for mental anguish.

“We’re asking you to send a very, very simple message, and that is: Stop Alex Jones. Stop monetizing misinformation and lies,” Wesley Todd Ball, an attorney for the parents, told the jury Friday before hearings began. deliberations on punitive measures. damages.

Jones sought to distance himself from conspiracy theories during his trial testimony, apologizing to the parents and acknowledging 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 to the sound of approaching police sirens.

‘A TRULY BAD ACTOR’

The judge admonished Jones during the trial for not telling the truth during his testimony about his bankruptcy and failure to comply with document requests.

Attorney Doug Mirell, a defamation litigation expert who was not involved in the case, said the issue of Jones’s veracity on the witness stand could have played a role in the jury’s award of punitive damages, and noted that it is unusual to award significantly more in punitive than compensatory damages. damages.

“It is possible that the jury simply stuck to their disgust at the lies and decided that Mr. Jones is a really bad actor,” Mirell told Reuters.

Forensic economist Bernard Pettingill testified Friday that Jones and Infowars are worth between $135 million and $270 million combined.

Jones’ company, Free Speech Systems LLC, filed for bankruptcy protection last week. Jones said during a Monday broadcast that the filing will help the company stay on the air while it appeals.

The bankruptcy filing halted a similar defamation lawsuit brought by the Sandy Hook parents in Connecticut, where, like in Texas, they have already been found liable. The bankruptcy will also stop another defamation lawsuit from the Sandy Hook parents in Texas, Reynal told Reuters.

During closing arguments Wednesday, Kyle Farrar, an attorney for the parents, urged the jury to end what he called his nightmare and hold Jones accountable for profiting from his son’s death. Reynal acknowledged during his closing argument that Jones and Infowars “irresponsibly” reported on Sandy Hook, but said his client was not responsible for the harassment.

The plaintiffs accused Jones of approaching the trial in bad faith, citing broadcasts in which he said the proceedings were rigged against him and that the jury was full of people who “don’t know what planet they’re on.”

Reynal promised Friday that Jones will continue to do his job “holding the power structure accountable.”

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Information from Jack Queen in New York; Additional reporting by Jacqueline Thomsen in Washington; Edited by Will Dunham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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