AUSTIN, Texas – A jury in Texas on Friday ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay the parents of a boy killed at the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting $45.2 million in punitive damages for spreading a lie that they helped orchestrate the massacre.
The jury announced its decision a day after awarding the parents more than $4 million in damages and following testimony Friday that Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of disinformation media outlet Infowars, are worth $135 million. $270 million.
Mr. Jones was found responsible last year for defaming the families of the victims while spreading false theories that the shootings were part of a government plot to confiscate Americans’ firearms and that the victims’ families were complicit in the scheme.
Compensatory damages are based on proven damage, loss or injury, and are often calculated based on the fair market value of the damaged property and lost wages and expenses, according to Cornell Law School. Punitive damages are intended to punish particularly harmful behavior and are awarded at the discretion of the court, sometimes as multiple multiples of a compensatory decision.
The case being decided this week was brought by Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis died in the attack in Newtown, Connecticut. This was the first case to arise from several lawsuits filed by the victims’ parents in 2018.
“This is an important day for truth and justice, and I couldn’t be happier,” Ms Lewis said in the courtroom after the sentencing.
Before the jury could begin deliberating on punitive damages, Wesley Todd Ball, a family attorney, told the jury she had “the power to send a message for everyone in this country and perhaps this world to hear.”
“We are asking you to send a very simple message, which is: STOP Alex Jones,” he said. “Stop monetizing misinformation and lies. Please.”
Paul had asked the jury for punitive damages of about $146 million, in addition to the $4 million in damages issued Thursday.
The amount Mr Jones will have to pay in punitive damages is sure to be the subject of further litigation. Texas law sets punitive damages at twice the compensatory damages plus $750,000.
But Mark Bankston, a lawyer for Mr. Heslin and Mrs. Lewis, told reporters on Thursday that the case was likely to end in the Texas Supreme Court, and legal experts said there were disagreements about the issue. The constitutionality of the cover.
Understand the cases against Alex Jones
united front. Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is the focus of a long-running legal battle for families of mass shooting victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. Here’s what you need to know:
Mr. Jones’ attorney, F. Andino Renal, said the penalty would eventually be reduced to $1.5 million.
“Mr. Jones believes the First Amendment is under siege, and looks forward to continuing the fight,” Mr. Jones said after the ruling.
After the jury award, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble also paved the way for another potentially problematic move for Mr. Jones.
The family’s lawyers revealed during the trial that Mr Jones’ team had apparently inadvertently sent them a massive cache of data from Mr Jones’ mobile phone, and on Friday, Judge Gamble said she would not stand in their lawyer’s way. Mr. Hesselin and Mrs. Lewis submit letters to law enforcement and the House Committee on January 6th.
The committee summoned Jones in its investigation of his role in helping to plan the pro-Trump rally in Washington on January 6, 2021, which preceded the attack on the Capitol.
In Sandy Hook’s defamation cases, a damages trial in another lawsuit is set to begin next month in Connecticut, but may be delayed due to last week’s bankruptcy filing by Free Speech Systems. Lawyers for the families criticized the move as another attempt by Mr. Jones to protect his fortune and evade judgment.
The Texas case allowed the plaintiffs to testify about Mr. Jones’ wealth and the operations of his companies, which in addition to transmitting its broadcasts make money by selling merchandise.
Bernard Pettingell Jr., a forensic economist and former professor of economics at the Florida Institute of Technology, testified as witnesses to Mr. Hesselin and Mrs. Lewis on Friday that Mr Jones was a “very successful man”.
Pettingell said Infowars averaged $53.2 million in annual revenue between September 2015 and December 2018. Since then, he said, there has been a “nice healthy increase” in the company’s revenue, including from sales of nutritional goods and supplements, and has generated nearly $65 million in revenue. million dollars last year.
At one point, Mr. Jones was paying himself an average of $6 million a year, Mr. Betting said.
In its bankruptcy filing, Free Speech Systems declared $14.3 million in assets as of May 31, with net income of $1.9 million and nearly $11 million in product sales. Free Speech Systems also had approximately $79.2 million in debt, 68 percent of which was in the form of a note to PQPR Holdingsan entity designating Mr. Jones as director.
Last year, after Mr. Jones was found guilty of presumptive liability in the Sandy Hook cases, he began transferring $11,000 a day to PQPR, Pettingell said.
The “huge” loan from PQPR, a shell company without any employees, is actually Mr. Jones “using this memo as a refund to pay himself back,” Mr. Pettingell said, though Mr. Jones’s lawyer insisted that PQPR was a real company. Another note is set to mature when Mr. Jones turns 74 (he is now 48).
Mr Pettingail said he was able to track down nine private companies linked to Jones, but had to piece the information together in part because Mr. Jones’ team resisted discovery orders.
“We can’t put a finger on what he does for a living, and how he actually makes his money,” he said.
“His organizational chart is an inverted T, which means everything flows to Alex Jones. Alex Jones made all the major decisions, and I think Alex Jones knows where the money is.” “He can say he’s broke, he has no money, but we know that’s not true.”
“We have not obtained any evidence of what Alex Jones actually owns today, nor have we obtained any of what the FSS owns today, what money they have, what assets they have to pay,” Mr. Raynal, Mr. Jones’ attorney, said in his closing statement on Friday.
Jones and colleagues such as the Genesis Communications Network, which has helped promote his program for decades, have claimed they are dating the finance wire, using defamation cases as an opportunity to solicit fans for donations.
Mr. Jones complained about declining revenues after he was banned from using major social media platforms in 2018. Mr. Bankston responded in court on Wednesday: “Well, after you’ve been dropped, your numbers continue to improve,” he said.
Following Friday’s ruling, Ms Lewis stressed the importance of having a chance during the trial to confront Mr Jones directly in the courtroom earlier in the week.
“I must look him in the eye and tell him the effect his actions have had on me and my family and not just us – all the other Sandy Hook families, all the people who live in Sandy Hook and then the ripple effect that they had all over the world.” “That was a healing moment for me.”
It was also important, she said, for Mr. Jones to see a videotape, filed in court, of Jesse alive, running in a field. “I think he was punished,” she said of Mr. Jones. “I think he’s been held accountable, and I hope he takes this seriously because in the end love is a choice, and what he puts there – lies and hate – that is also a choice.”
Elizabeth Williamson reported from Austin, Tiffany Hsu from San Francisco and Michael Levinson from New York.