After already ordering him to pay $4.1 million to the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, the jury that dismissed the defamation lawsuit against far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones over his falsehoods about the massacre , handing him another $45.2 million. to the grieving family who sued him.
The combined $49.3 million is hefty, but still below the $150 million that Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis – the mother and father of murdered six-year-old Jesse Lewis – had demanded over Jones’ repeated lies that the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, were an elaborate ruse carried out by “crisis actors” determined to enforce gun control reform.
Jones had spread the lies on his right-wing conspiratorial outlet Infowars and on other media platforms.
The jury’s award was Thursday to compensate Heslin and Lewis for Jones’ actions. One Friday — handed out after about four hours of deliberation — was intended to punish Jones for conduct that the jurors, by their unanimous decision, found flagrant.
Before the verdict was read, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Wes Ball, asked the jury to send a “very, very simple message.”
“And that’s stop Alex Jones, stop monetizing misinformation and lies,” said a passionate Ball. “Please.”
Jones’ attorney, Federico Andino Reynal, tried to convince the jurors that they had “already sent a message” to personalities like Jones on Thursday.
“Four million dollars is a lot,” Reynal said, adding that he estimated it was tens of thousands of dollars an hour that Jones spent on Sandy Hook reporting.
In a two-week trial that began on July 25, Heslin and Lewis testified that Jones’ followers harassed them for years over lying about their son’s death and the murder of 19 other students and six Sandy Hook staffers. .
They said he made healing after their son’s murder impossible, and the couple sued Jones for defaming them and intentionally inflicting emotional distress on them. By default, they won a verdict in their favor after Jones failed to provide documents in response to their lawsuit, kicking off the lawsuit that began last week, whose sole purpose was to determine how much Jones owed.
Jones, for his part, tried to distance himself from the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories he cited, saying he was sorry if he hurt the prosecutors’ feelings, while admitting the massacre was “100% real.”
Reynal told jurors at the trial that Jones and his Infowars website had reported “irresponsibly” about Sandy Hook, but he insisted his client could not be held accountable for the actions of his followers.
Friday began with testimony from a financial expert who estimated that Jones and his media company Free Speech Systems had a combined value of between $135 million and $270 million. Pettingill added that Jones and his company made more than $50 million annually between 2016 and 2021 due to his “rabid following,” which persisted even when he was banned from promoting himself on popular social media platforms.
According to Pettingill, those estimates were complicated by the fact that Jones used a web of empty companies that own nothing and employ no one to pump his money. He also reported loans totaling more than $50 million that appeared to have the purpose of making it appear as if his value is lower, and he was unable to provide any financial information Pettingill needed for a more accurate assessment.
Jones had braced himself for Friday. Free Speech Systems filed for federal bankruptcy protection last week, a filing that Jones says would help the company stay afloat as it appeals the outcome of the case in Judge Maya Guerra Gamble’s courtroom in Austin, Texas.
Jones’ appeal would be aimed at drastically reducing — if not eliminating, the jury’s prize against him. Reynal had argued Friday that $270,000 in punitive damages was reasonable, relying on a state law that would set such damages well below the limit awarded by the jury.
The recent bankruptcy filing of Austin-based Free Speech Systems interrupted a similar but larger defamation lawsuit in Connecticut brought by numerous Sandy Hook families who have also defaulted on their merits over Jones’ failure to respond. Jones also faces another case in Texas brought by other parents.
In addition, as a result of one of the most memorable episodes in the trial heard by Guerra Gamble, Jones could be charged with perjury. Another plaintiffs’ attorney, Mark Bankston, revealed to Jones on Wednesday that the conspiracy theorist’s legal team had inadvertently provided text messages he had written from 2019, including messages that apparently contradicted swearing allegations that he had nothing to say. on his phone regarding the Sandy Hook murders.
Jones’ team was aware of the accidental leak but took no steps to keep the communications out of the courtroom, Bankston added. The Congressional Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has since asked Bankston to turn over those lyrics, because they were in the possession of one of the most prominent supporters of former President Donald Trump.
A gang of Trump sycophants, including white supremacist groups, carried out the attack on the Capitol. And the committee wants to see what the deposed president’s team has had with Jones before the pro-Trump mob tried to disrupt the certification of his defeat to Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
Unless a judge ordered him to do something else, Bankston said he intended to comply with the commission’s request.
The baseless Sandy Hook conspiracy is far from the only theory of its kind that Jones has propagated on Infowars, which is often mocked in some quarters for selling pills marketed to help men get firmer erections.
He also lied that a pizza parlor in Washington DC was home to a child abuse ring, inspiring a man to go there and fire a high-powered rifle inside. Another was about a myth that a yogurt factory was supporting child molesters who were spreading tuberculosis.
Jones had to apologize for both. He did not appear to be in court for Friday’s verdict being read.
Meanwhile, since her son’s murder, Scarlett Lewis has founded the Choose Love foundation, whose mission is to promote social and emotional education and general compassion in schools. The name of the foundation honors a message that Jesse left on a kitchen board shortly before his death.