A Texas jury on Friday ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a child killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
This is on top of the $4.1 million he must pay for the pain he caused them by claiming for years that the nation’s deadliest school shooting was a hoax.
The total – $49.3 million – is lower than the $150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose six-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among 20 children and six educators killed in the attack on 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.
But the lawsuit marks the first time Jones has been held financially responsible for peddling lies about the massacre, claiming it was rigged by the government to tighten gun laws.
Afterwards, Lewis said Jones – who was not in the courtroom to hear the verdict – was held responsible. She said when she took the helm and looked Jones in the eye, she thought of her son, who was credited with saving lives by shouting “run away” when the killer stopped in his rampage.
“He stood up to bully Adam Lanza and saved the lives of nine of his classmates,” Lewis said. “I hope I did justice to that incredible courage when I got to face off against Alex Jones, who is also a bully. I hope it inspires others to do the same.
Jones, who described the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights, conceded during the trial that the attack was “100% real” and that he was wrong for lying about it. But Heslin and Lewis told jurors an apology would not be enough and called on them to make Jones pay for the years of pain he caused them and the other Sandy Hook families.
Parents told jurors they had endured a decade of trauma, inflicted first by the murder of their son and what followed: shots fired at a house, online and phone threats and harassment in the street by strangers. They said the threats and harassment were all fueled by Jones and that his conspiracy theory spread to his followers through his Infowars website.
A forensic psychiatrist testified that the parents suffered from “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” inflicted by ongoing trauma, similar to what a soldier at war or an abused child might feel.
Friday’s damage drew praise from the American Federation of Teachers union, which represented Sandy Hook teachers.
“Nothing will ever mend the pain of losing a child or witnessing this tragedy denied for political reasons. But I’m glad the parents of Sandy Hook got justice,” union president Randi Weingarten said in a tweet. .
Throughout the trial, Jones was his typically explosive self, talking about conspiracies on the witness stand, at impromptu press conferences and on his show. His erratic behavior is unusual by courtroom standards, and the judge scolded him, at one point telling him, “This isn’t your show.”
Jones’ businesses and personal wealth could also be cut by further lawsuits and bankruptcies. Another libel lawsuit against Jones by a Sandy Hook family is set to begin preliminary hearings in the same Austin court on September 14. He faces another libel lawsuit in Connecticut.
His lead lawyer, Andino Reynal, told the judge he would appeal and ask the courts to drastically reduce the size of the verdict.
Jones’ company, Free Speech Systems, which is Infowars’ Austin-based parent company, filed for bankruptcy protection within the first week of the trial.
Lawyers for the family had urged jurors to issue a financial penalty that would force Infowars to shut down.
“You have the ability to stop this man from doing it again,” Wesley Ball, the parents’ attorney, told the jury on Friday. “Send the message to those who wish to do the same: speech is free. Lies, you pay.”
Lawyers for the Sandy Hook families who are suing Jones claim he attempted to conceal evidence of his true wealth in various shell companies.
During his testimony, Jones was confronted with a memo from one of his business managers detailing a single day’s gross income of $800,000 from the sale of vitamin supplements and other products. via its website, which would approach nearly $300 million in one year. Jones called it a record selling day.