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