US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is to pay the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre $45.2 million in punitive damages – in addition to $4.1 million in damages -interest already awarded – for falsely claiming the shooting was a hoax, a Texas jury decided on Friday.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, estranged parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, testified that Jones supporters harassed them and sent them death threats for years, mistakenly believing they were lying about the death of their son on December 14. 2012 shooting that killed 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The 12-person jury decided on compensatory damages on Thursday following a two-week trial in the libel trial presided over by Judge Maya Guerra Gamble in state court in Austin, the capital of Texas, where Jones’ Infowars radio show and webcast is based.
The parents had sought $145.9 million in punitive damages and $150 million in compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are awarded to cover a plaintiff’s suffering and loss.
Punitive damages are awarded to punish the actions of a defendant.
Jones, who has been a prominent figure in US right-wing circles and a supporter of former US President Donald Trump, had called the Sandy Hook massacre a staged US government hoax using crisis actors to serve as pretext for the kidnapping of the Americans. guns.
“We’re asking you to send a very, very simple message, and that’s: Stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies,” Wesley Todd Ball, an attorney for the parents, told jurors earlier Friday. before they begin deliberations on punitive damages.
Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza used a Remington Bushmaster rifle to carry out the massacre. It ended when Lanza killed himself with the approaching sound of police sirens.
A lawyer for Jones, Federico Andino Reynal, asked the jurors to return a verdict of US$270,000 based on the number of hours Infowars spent covering Sandy Hook.
Forensic economist Bernard Pettingill testified on behalf of Lewis’s parents on Friday that Jones “promulgated hate speech and misinformation” and “made a lot of money.” Jones and Infowars are worth between US$135 million and US$270 million combined, Pettingill said.
Jones sought to distance himself from conspiracy theories during his testimony, apologizing to parents and acknowledging that Sandy Hook was “100% real”.
Jones’ company, Free Speech Systems LLC, filed for bankruptcy last week. Jones said on a Monday show that the filing will help the company stay on the air while it appeals. The bankruptcy filing stayed a similar defamation lawsuit filed by Sandy Hook’s parents in Connecticut where, like in Texas, he has already been found liable.
During closing arguments on Wednesday, Kyle Farrar, an attorney for the parents, urged the jury to end what he called their nightmare and hold Jones accountable for profiting from their son’s death. Reynal acknowledged in closing argument that Jones and Infowars “irresponsibly” reported Sandy Hook, but said his client was not responsible for the harassment.
Plaintiffs also accused Jones of approaching the lawsuit in bad faith, citing broadcasts in which he said the proceedings were rigged against him and the jury was full of people who “don’t know what planet they’re on. find”.
(Reporting by Jack Queen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham, Howard Goller and Mark Porter)