Alex Jones should pay Sandy Hook dad and mom $45.2 million $ extra in punitive damages

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A Texas jury has ordered Infowars host Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million to the parents of the Sandy Hook school shooting victim. Friday’s decision comes a day after the same jury awarded the plaintiffs 4.1 million LTL compensation, completed the final phase of a defamation lawsuit first filed in 2018 over Jones’ repeated false claims that the deadliest elementary school shooting in US history was a hoax.

Jones was not present in court as the jury read a unanimous verdict.

The damages phase of the trial, which ended Friday, marks the first time Jones, an influential purveyor of far-right conspiracy theories, has faced financial consequences in court for outlandish lies he told on his Infowars show about the shooting. From the first days after 2012 shooting that killed 26 people, including 20 young children, Jones said on his program that “nobody died” at Sandy Hook and that the attack was a hoax “perpetrated” by gun control advocates. anti-gun sentiment.

Alex Jones must pay $4.1 million to Sandy Hook parents

The damages, brought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, indicate what Jones may face in the coming months in additional Sandy Hook defamation cases in Texas and Connecticut.

According to Carl Tobias, a tort law expert at the University of Richmond School of Law, it remains to be seen how much punitive damages the parents will ultimately receive, as Texas law caps such awards at $750,000 per plaintiff.

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

Punitive damages are designed to sting, Tobias said, and juries tend to award amounts commensurate with the defendant’s finances, despite many states’ controversial caps on such awards.

“The theory is that the harm should be large enough to deter the perpetrator and other members of society,” he said.

Jurors heard additional testimony Friday about Jones’ finances before deliberating how much to punish Jones for his lies and deter him from repeating them.

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

“You can’t separate Alex Jones from the companies. He is corporate,” Pettingill said.

The testimony is in stark contrast to Jones’ public statements that he is financially destitute; his defense team initially asked the jury to award the plaintiffs $1 per claim after arguing that Jones had lost millions of dollars and followers. social media platforms took off like YouTube and Spotify.

Free Speech Systems, the parent company of the Infowars website, a bankruptcy case was filed during the court hearing, Pettingill and other witnesses said it was impossible to fully investigate Jones’ finances because he had not filed documents with the court.

After Jones refused to comply with court orders for documents and other evidence, District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County, Texas, To make judgments in absentia regarding Jones last September, which made him responsible for all the damage.

But in a dramatic courtroom moment Wednesday, it became clear that Jones’ legal team was on the wrong side sent the contents of his mobile phone to the lawyer representing the parents. In an apparent error, plaintiff’s attorney Mark Bankston accused Jones of lying under oath when he testified that he did not have any text messages related to the Sandy Hook massacre.

August 3 attorney Mark Bankston accused Alex Jones of lying after fact-checking 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 turned over, which the judge denied.

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

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

Heslin and Lewis testified during the nearly two-week defamation trial that they were relentlessly false about Jones’ claims that their son never died and that they were “crisis actors.” created a “living hell” for them.

Taking the stand Tuesday, Heslin said that as he grieved for his son, he also struggled with death threats and abuse from those who embraced Jones’ rhetoric.

Judge Maya Guerra Gamble reprimanded Infowars founder Alex Jones for swearing in his defamation trial in Travis County in 2022. August 2 (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 had a duty to punish and deter Jones with their verdicts and urged them to use their votes to “stop Alex Jones.”

“Really, you have an opportunity today to prevent this man from ever doing this again: to continue to tear apart the fabric of our society for the enormous monetary benefits he has received thus far,” Bankston said.

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

Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.

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