AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas jury on Friday ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a child who was shot and killed at a Sandy Hook school in 2012. It was they who spread the lie that they helped plan the Holocaust.
The jury announced its decision after awarding parents more than $4 million in compensatory damages and testifying Friday that Mr Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of his disinformation peddling media Infowars, were worth $135 million. $270 million.
Mr Jones was identified last year for defaming victims’ families while spreading false theories that the shooting was part of a government conspiracy to confiscate Americans’ guns and that victims’ families were complicit in the scheme.
Compensatory damages are based on proven injury, loss or injury, usually based on the fair market value of damaged property, lost wages and expenses, based on Cornell Law SchoolPunitive damages are designed to punish particularly harmful conduct and are often awarded at the discretion of a court, sometimes many times the size of a compensatory award.
The case decided this week was brought by Scarlett Lewis and Neil Hesling, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was killed in the attack in Newtown, Connecticut. This is the first of several lawsuits filed by the victims’ parents in 2018.
“This is an important day for truth and justice and I am very happy,” Ms Lewis told the court after the sentencing.
Before the jury began to consider punitive damages, the family’s attorney, Wesley Todd Ball, told the jury that it “has the ability to send a message to everyone in this country and even the world.”
“We’re asking you to send a very, very simple message and that is: Stop Alex Jones,” he said. “Stop monetizing misinformation and lies. Please.”
In addition to the $4 million in compensatory damages awarded Thursday, Mr. Ball is also seeking about $146 million in punitive damages from the jury.
How much punitive damages Mr Jones will actually have to pay will certainly be the subject of further litigation. Texas law limits punitive damages to twice the compensatory damages plus $750,000.
But Mark Bankston, an attorney for Mr. Hesling and Ms. Lewis, told reporters on Thursday that the issue was likely to end up in the Texas Supreme Court, where legal experts said they were divided The constitutionality of the cap.
Learn about the case against Alex Jones
United Front. Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was the focus of a long-running legal battle waged by the families of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Here’s what to know:
Mr. Jones’ attorney, F. Andino Reynal, said the punitive award will eventually be reduced to $1.5 million.
Mr Jones believes “the First Amendment is under siege and he looks forward to continuing the fight,” Mr Reiner said after the sentencing.
Following the jury verdict, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble also cleared the way for another step that could cause problems for Mr Jones.
The family’s lawyers revealed during the trial that Mr Jones’ team had apparently inadvertently sent them a large amount of data from Mr Jones’s phone, and on Friday Judge Gamble said she would not hinder lawyers Mr Hesling and Ms Lewis from making a statement on January 6. Provides information to law enforcement and House committees.
The committee has subpoenaed Mr Jones to investigate his role in a pro-Trump rally in Washington on January 6, 2021, which took place before the attack on the Capitol.
A damages trial for another lawsuit in the Sandy Hook defamation case is scheduled to begin next month in Connecticut, but may be delayed as Free Speech Systems Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection last week. Lawyers for the families have criticised the move as another attempt by Mr Jones to protect his wealth and avoid trial.
The Texas case allows plaintiffs to present testimony about Mr. Jones’ fortune and the operations of his companies, which make money from selling merchandise in addition to airing his broadcasts.
Florida Institute of Technology forensic economist and former economics professor Bernard Pettingill Jr. testified Friday as a witness for Mr Hesling and Ms Lewis that Mr Jones “was a very successful man”.
Between September 2015 and December 2018, Infowars’ average annual revenue was $53.2 million, Mr. Pettingill said. Since then, he said, the company’s revenue has seen “good healthy growth,” including from sales of survival goods and supplements, and it brought in nearly $65 million last year.
Mr. Pettingill said Mr. Jones paid himself an average of $6 million a year at one point.
In its bankruptcy filing, Free Speech Systems reported that it had $14.3 million in assets, $1.9 million in net income and nearly $11 million in product sales as of May 31. Free Speech Systems also has nearly $79.2 million in debt, 68% of which is in the form of notes PQPR Holdingsan entity that names Mr. Jones as its manager.
Mr Pettingill said he began injecting $11,000 a day into PQPR last year after Mr Jones was found in default in the Sandy Hook case.
Mr Pettingill said PQPR was a shell company with no employees and that the “huge” loan from PQPR was actually Mr Jones “using that note as a kickback to pay himself”, although Mr Jones’ lawyers insisted PQPR was a Real company. Another note will come of age when Mr. Jones turns 74 (he’s 48 now).
Mr Pettinger said he managed to track down nine private companies linked to Jones, but had to piece together the information, in part because Mr Jones’ team rejected a discovery order.
“We can’t really understand how he made a living, and how he actually made his money,” he said.
“His org chart is an inverted T, which means everything goes to Alex Jones. Alex Jones makes all the big decisions, and I think Alex Jones knows where the money is,” Pei said. Mr Tingel said. “He can say he’s broke and he has no money, but we know that’s not true.”
Mr Reiner, Mr Jones’ lawyer, said in closing submissions on Friday, “We have not been given any evidence of what Alex Jones actually has today, we have not received any of what the FSS has today, what money they have. , what assets they have to pay.”
For decades, Mr Jones and partners such as the Genesis Communications Network, who have helped unite his show, claim to be using the defamation cases as an opportunity to beg fans for donations.
Mr Jones complained that his income had plummeted after he was banned from major social media platforms in 2018. Mr Bankston rebutted in court on Wednesday: “Well, after you de-platform, your numbers have been getting better,” he said.
Following Friday’s sentencing, Ms Lewis stressed the importance of her having the opportunity to confront Mr Jones directly in court earlier this week during her trial.
“I had to look him in the eye and tell him how his actions affected me and my family, not just us – all the other Sandy Hook families, all the people who lived in Sandy Hook, and then the The chain reaction is happening all over the world,” she said. “That was a cathartic moment for me.”
Equally important, she said, Mr Jones was seen in court by video of Jesse running across a field. “I think he was punished,” she said of Mr Jones. “I think he’s been held accountable and I hope he really takes this to heart because ultimately love is a choice and what he puts out – the lies, the hate – is also a choice.”
Elizabeth Williamson Reporting from Austin, Tiffanysh from San Francisco and Michael Levinson from New York.