AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas jury on Friday ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting $45.2 million in damages for spreading the lie. that they helped set up the massacre.
The jury announced its decision a day after awarding the parents more than $4 million in damages and after testimony Friday that Mr. Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of its disinformation-peddling media outlet, Infowars, were worth $135 million to $270 million.
Mr Jones was charged last year for defaming the victims’ families and spreading false theories that the shooting was part of a government plot to seize US firearms and that the victims’ families were complicit in the plan. .
Compensatory damages are based on proven damage, loss or injury and are often calculated based on the fair market value of damaged property, lost wages and expenses, according to Cornell Law School. Punitive damages are intended to punish particularly harmful conduct and are usually awarded at the discretion of the court, and are sometimes many multiples of compensatory damages.
The case decided this week was brought by Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, died in the attack in Newtown, Conn. It was the first to arise from several lawsuits filed by victims’ parents in 2018.
“This is an important day for the truth, for justice, and I couldn’t be happier,” Ms Lewis said in court after the verdict.
Before the jurors began deliberating on the punitive damages, Wesley Todd Ball, a family attorney, told the jury it had “the opportunity to send a message for everyone in this country and perhaps this world to hear.” “
“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.”
Ball had asked the jury for approximately $146 million in punitive damages, in addition to the $4 million in compensatory damages awarded Thursday.
How many mr. Jones will actually have to pay in punitive damages will certainly be the subject of further lawsuits. Texas law limits punitive damages to twice the compensatory damages plus $750,000.
But Mark Bankston, an attorney for Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis, told reporters Thursday that the matter will likely go before the Texas Supreme Court, and legal experts said there were disagreements over the matter. the constitutionality of the cap.
Understand the business against Alex Jones
A united front. Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist, is the focus of a long-running legal battle waged by families of victims of a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. Here’s what you need to know:
Jones’ attorney, F. Andino Reynal, said the penalty would 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 Reynal said after the verdict.
After the jury award, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble also paved the way for a next step that could be problematic for Mr. jones.
The family’s attorneys had revealed at trial that Mr. Jones’ team had sent them, apparently accidentally, a huge amount of data from Mr Jones’ cell phone, and on Friday Judge Gamble said they would not inform the attorneys. would stand in the way of Mr. Heslin and Mrs. Lewis delivering the notices to law enforcement and the House Jan. 6 committee.
The commission has subpoenaed Mr. Jones in its investigation into his role in planning the pro-Trump rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, which preceded the attack on the Capitol.
In the Sandy Hook defamation cases, a lawsuit for damages in another of the lawsuits will begin in Connecticut next month, but it may be delayed due to a bankruptcy filing last week by Free Speech Systems. Lawyers for the families criticized the move as another attempt by Mr. Jones to protect his wealth and evade judgment.
The Texas case allowed plaintiffs to testify about Mr. Jones’ wealth and the operations of his companies, which, in addition to running his broadcasts, make money by selling merchandise.
Bernard Pettingill Jr., a forensic economist and former economics professor at the Florida Institute of Technology, testified before Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis on Friday that Mr. Jones is “a very successful man.”
Infowars had average annual revenue of $53.2 million between September 2015 and December 2018, Mr Pettingill said. Since then, there’s been a “nice healthy increase” in the company’s revenue, including sales of survival items and supplements, and it brought in nearly $65 million last year, he said.
At one point, Mr. Jones paid himself an average of $6 million a year, Mr. Pettingill said.
In its bankruptcy filing, Free Speech Systems reported $14.3 million in assets as of May 31, with $1.9 million in net income and nearly $11 million in product sales. Free Speech Systems also had nearly $79.2 million in debt, 68 percent of which was in the form of a note to PQPR Holdings, an entity that Mr. Jones names as manager.
Last year, after Mr. Jones was found default liable in the Sandy Hook cases, he began funneling $11,000 a day into PQPR, Mr Pettingill said.
The “huge” loan from PQPR, a shell company with no employees, is actually that Mr. Jones “used that banknote as a chargeback to pay for itself,” said Mr. Pettingill, although Mr. Jones maintained that PQPR is a real company. Another note will ripen when Mr. Jones is 74 (he’s 48 now).
mr. Pettingill said he was able to track down nine private Jones-associated companies but had to gather information, in part because Mr. Jones resisted discovery orders.
“We can’t really put our finger on what he does for a living, how he makes his money,” he said.
“His org chart is an inverted T, meaning everything flows to Alex Jones. Alex Jones has made all the important decisions and I think Alex Jones knows where the money is,” Mr Pettingill said. “He can say he’s broke, he has no money, but we know that’s not true.”
Mr Reynal, Mr Jones’ attorney, said in his closing statement Friday that “we have not been given any evidence of what Alex Jones actually has today, we have not been given any of what FSS has today, what money they have, what assets they have.” must pay.”
Jones and collaborators such as the Genesis Communications Network, which helped syndicate his show for decades, claimed to have the financial wire, using the defamation cases as an opportunity to beg fans for donations.
Mr Jones has complained that his earnings have plummeted after being banned from major social media platforms in 2018. Mr Bankston pushed back in court on Wednesday: “Well, after your deplatforming, your numbers are getting better and better,” he said.
Following Friday’s ruling, Ms Lewis stressed the importance of being given the opportunity to face Mr Jones directly in court earlier this week during the trial.
“I got to look him in the eye and I had to tell him the impact his actions had on me and my family and not just us – all the other Sandy Hook families, all the people living in Sandy Hook and then the ripple effect that had around the world,” she said. “That was a cathartic moment for me.”
It was also important, she said, that Mr. Jones saw a video, presented in court, of Jesse alive, running through 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 there – lies, hate – that’s a choice too.”
Elizabeth Williamson reported from Austin, Tiffany Hsu from San Francisco and Michael Levenson From New York.