by Jim Vertuno
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – A Texas jury Friday ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages, $4.1 million to the parents of a child killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. He has to pay to join. He suffered for years claiming that the nation’s deadliest school shooting was a hoax.
The total — $49.3 million — is less than the $150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was one of 20 children and six teachers killed in the deadliest classroom shooting in American history. But the trial marks the first time Jones has been held financially liable for lying about the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.
Following the verdict, Lewis said that Jones – who was not in the courtroom to hear the verdict – has been held accountable. She said that when she took the stand and looked into Jones’ eyes, she thought of her son, who was credited with saving her life by shouting “run” when the killer stopped in his rage.
“He stood up for bully Adam Lanza and saved the lives of nine of his classmates,” Lewis said. “I hope I did justice to the incredible courage I had when I was able to confront Alex Jones, who is also a bully. I hope this inspires other people to do the same.”
It may take some time for the plaintiff to collect anything. Soon after the verdict, Jones’ lead attorney, Andino Renal, told the judge that he would appeal and ask the courts to reduce the size of the decision.
After the hearing, Renal said he expected the penalty amount to be reduced to $1.5 million.
‘We think the verdict was too much. … Alex Jones will be on air today, he will be on air tomorrow, he will be on air next week. He will continue to do his job by holding the power structure accountable.”
Jones’ companies and personal assets can also be decimated by other lawsuits and bankruptcy. Another defamation suit against Jones by a Sandy Hook family is set to begin pre-trial hearings on September 14 in the same Austin court.
Plaintiff’s attorney, Mark Bankston, said he believes he can challenge any attempt to minimize damages. But he said that even if the award is cut heavily, it is just as important as making a big decision in bankruptcy court for the family to file a claim against Jones’ assets and the company.
Earlier this week, Jones testified that any award over $2 million would “overwhelm us.” His company Free Speech Systems, the Austin-based parent company of Infowars, filed for bankruptcy protection during the first week of the trial.
Punitive damages are meant to punish defendants for particularly serious conduct, which goes beyond the monetary compensation paid to the persons they hurt. A higher punitive award is also seen as a way to send a wider social message to jurors and to deter others from the same hateful conduct in the future.
Barry Secret, a Buffalo, New York, First Amendment attorney with no connection to the Jones case, said Friday’s higher punitive award added Thursday’s compensatory award amounts as “a surprising loss to Jones.”
“With $50 million in all, the jury has sent a big, loud message that this behavior will not be tolerated,” Gupta said. “Everyone with a show like this who intentionally lies – the jury won’t tolerate it.”
Future jurors in other pending Sandy Hook trials may see the damages amount as a benchmark in this case, Gupta said. And if other jurors do, Secret said, “it could put Jones out of business.”
The family’s lawyers had urged jurors to impose a financial penalty that would force Inforwars to close.
“You have the ability to stop this guy from ever doing this again,” parents’ attorney Wesley Ball told the jury on Friday. “Send a message to those who want to do the same: Speech is free. Lie, you pay. ,
An economist testified Friday that Jones and company are worth up to $270 million.
Bernard Pettingill, who was hired by plaintiffs to study Jones’ net worth, said records show Jones withdrew $62 million for himself in 2021, when the default judgments in the lawsuits against him continue. were done.
“That number, in my opinion, represents the value of a net worth,” Pettingill said. “They put money in a bank account somewhere.”
Pettingill said the money that flows into Jones’ companies eventually goes to him, who he said has testified in about 1,500 cases during his career.
But Jones’ lawyers said his client had already learned his lesson. He called for leniency, arguing for a penalty amount of less than $300,000.
“You have already sent a message. A message for the first time, to all talk show hosts, for a talk show host, that their standard of care has to change,” Renal said.
Jones still faces two other defamation lawsuits from the Sandy Hook families in Texas and Connecticut, which put their personal wealth and media empire at risk.
Friday’s loss drew praise from the American Federation of Teachers’ Union, which represents teachers in Sandy Hook.
“Nothing will ever heal the pain of losing a child, or to see a tragedy that was denied for political reasons. But I am glad the parents of Sandy Hook have got some justice,” AFT President Randy Weingarten said in a tweet.
Lawyers for the Sandy Hook families suing Jones argue that they have tried to hide evidence of their real assets at various shell companies.
During his testimony, Jones was confronted with a memo from one of his business managers, outlining $800,000 a day’s gross revenue from selling vitamin supplements and other products through his website, roughly $800,000 a year. will reach $300 million. Jones called it a record sales day.
Jones, who has characterized the trial as an attack on his First Amendment rights, admitted during the trial that the attack was “100% genuine” and that he had lied about it. But Heslin and Lewis told the jurors that an apology would not suffice and asked Jones to pay for the years he and other Sandy Hook families suffered.
The parents told jurors how they’ve endured a decade of trauma, which first led to their son’s murder and what followed: a house shot, online and phone threats, and Harassed on the street by strangers. He said the threats and harassment were all instigated by Jones and that his conspiracy theory was spread to his followers through Infowars.
A forensic psychiatrist testified that the parent suffered from “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” resulting from ongoing trauma, as may be experienced by a soldier in war or a child abuse victim.
Throughout the trial, Jones has been his usual bombshell, talking about conspiracies on the witness stand, during urgent press conferences, and on his shows. His erratic behavior is unusual by court standards, and the judge has reprimanded him at one point, saying: “It’s not your show.”
The test has also attracted attention outside of Austin.
Bankston told the court Thursday that the US House Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 uprising at the US Capitol has requested records from Jones’ phone that Jones’ attorneys mistakenly handed over to plaintiffs. Bankston later said he planned to comply with the committee’s request.
Last month, the January 6 committee showed graphic and violent text messages and played videos of right-wing figures, including Jones, and others who vowed that January 6 would be the day they fight for Trump.
The committee first summoned Jones in November, demanding a statement and documents related to his attempts to spread misinformation about the 2020 election and a rally on the day of the attack.
Associated Press writer Michael Tarm in Chicago contributed to this report.
Watch the AP’s full coverage of the Alex Jones trial here: