Plaintiffs Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis were awarded a total of just under $50 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Of the $49.3 million total, the $45.2 million in punitive damages may be reduced due to Texas law.
Jurors began deliberating around 12:30 a.m. CT on Friday, after Judge Maya Guerra Gamble reminded them that in a default judgment against him, Jones had already been found liable for defamation and “intentionally inflicting emotional distress” on Lewis. and Heslin.
In an emotional closing argument on Friday, Lewis and Heslin’s attorney, Wesley Todd Ball, told the jury, “We’re asking you to send a very, very simple message, and that is, arrest Alex Jones. Arrest monetizing misinformation and lies. Please.”
Jones’ attorney, Andino Reynal, immediately raised the issue of Texas law and the amount of punitive damages in court, then, following the proceedings, addressed it again by speaking out before the tribunal.
“We think the verdict was too high. As for punitive damages, Texas law caps them at $750,000 per plaintiff, so that verdict today is $1.5 million in sanctions. Alex Jones will be on air today, he will be on air tomorrow, he will be on air next week. He will continue to do his job of holding the power structure accountable. This is our only statement,” Reynal said after the court.
Judge Gamble acknowledged Reynal’s objection in court but did not immediately rule on it.
“So we have laws in Texas where we claim to trust our juries and then we don’t trust our juries, and that’s true,” Gamble said at the time. “And I’m sure the judgment will correctly reflect Texas laws in that regard, so don’t have to worry about that.”
CNN reached out to a plaintiffs’ attorney to comment on Reynal’s argument.
During closing arguments, Ball had urged jurors to “dissuade Alex Jones from doing this horror again” and “dissuade others who might want to put themselves in his shoes”.
Reynal argued for a much lower sum, suggesting that jurors should multiply Jones’ alleged hourly salary of $14,000 and the 18 hours he says Jones spoke about Sandy Hook on Infowars, for a sum of around a quarter of a million dollars.
Punitive damages are a form of punishment for the behavior of an accused. Jones, the head of conspiratorial media outlet Infowars, has repeatedly lied about the Sandy Hook massacre. It fueled conspiracy theories about the victims and their families, prompting multiple libel lawsuits. He has since acknowledged that the mass shooting took place.
Jones claimed in his testimony that a jury award of just $2 million would destroy him financially. But on Friday morning, jurors heard testimony about Jones’ wealth from an economist, Bernard Pettingill, Jr., who estimated Jones had a net worth of between $135 million and $270 million.
Pettingill, Jr., who reviewed several years of records for Free Speech Systems, Jones’ parent company, and Infowars, said Jones used a series of shell companies to hide his money.
Jones used two major loans to make it look like he was broke when in fact he wasn’t, Pettingill, Jr. testified.
“Alex Jones knows where the money is, he knows where that money has gone, and he knows he’s going to benefit from that money eventually,” Pettingill, Jr.
After one of the jurors asked about the difference between Jones’ money and his company’s money, Pettingill, Jr. said “you can’t separate Alex Jones from the companies. He’s the companies. “
Jones “monetized his shtick,” he added, even suggesting Jones could teach a college class on his techniques.
Jones’ fearmongering rants about Infowars have, for many years, been associated with advertisements for supplements, documentaries, and other products sold by Infowars. Pettingill, Jr. said the money was paid, identifying nine different companies owned by Jones.
“He’s a very successful man, he’s propagated hate speech and misinformation, but he’s made a lot of money and he’s monetized it,” Pettingill, Jr. said on the stand. “I think of him is that he didn’t ride a wave, he created the wave.”
Jones testified earlier in the week about his alleged financial troubles after social media giants like Facebook and Twitter banned his content from their platforms.
“I remember him saying that, but the records don’t reflect that,” Pettingill, Jr.
During closing arguments, Ball claimed that Jones had even more money stashed elsewhere and argued that $4.1 million was a drop in the proverbial bucket for Jones. “He’s probably already picked up the donations” from the fans, Ball said.