Having already ordered him to pay $4.1 million to parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, the jury is hearing the defamation case against the conspiracy theorist. far-right Alex Jones for his lies about the massacre told him to return another $45.2 million. to the bereaved family who pursued him.
The combined $49.3 million is high, but still less than the $150 million that Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis – the mother and father of slain six-year-old Jesse Lewis – had demanded because of repeated lies from Jones that the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders in Newtown, Connecticut, were an elaborate ruse carried out by “crisis actors” bent on imposing gun control reform.
The legal wrangling that is common after this type of case – including a promised appeal – means the amount Jones ultimately pays may be much lower at $49.3 million. But the ruling nonetheless represents a victory for relatives of the Sandy Hook victims and a major rebuke to one of the nation’s most notorious conspiracy theorists.
Scarlett Lewis on Friday recounted her son’s bravery during the massacre, dying warning his classmates to run as the gunman paused to reload.
“I hope I did justice to that incredible courage when I got to face Alex Jones, who is…a bully,” the grieving mother said after court Friday, according to The Associated Press. “I hope this inspires others to do the same.”
Jones had trumpeted the lies on his right-wing conspiratorial outlet Infowars as well as other media platforms.
The jury award on Thursday was to compensate Heslin and Lewis for Jones’ actions. The only Friday – distributed after about four hours of deliberations – was intended to punish Jones for the conduct of the jurors, by their unanimous decision, deemed egregious.
Before the verdict was read, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Wes Ball, asked the jury to send a “very, very simple message.”
“And that’s stopping Alex Jones, stopping the monetization of misinformation and lies,” an impassioned Ball said. “Please.”
Jones’ attorney, Federico Andino Reynal, sought to persuade jurors that they had “already sent a message” to figures like Jones on Thursday.
“Four million dollars is a lot,” Reynal said, adding that he estimates that represents tens of thousands of dollars per hour that Jones was spending on Sandy Hook coverage.
During a two-week trial that began July 25, Heslin and Lewis testified that Jones supporters harassed them for years about the lie that they lied about their son’s death as well as about the murder of 19 other students and six staff at Sandy Hook.
Saying he made healing after their son’s murder impossible, the couple sued Jones for defaming them and intentionally inflicting emotional distress on them. They won a judgment in their favor by default after Jones failed to provide documents in response to their lawsuit, setting up the lawsuit that began last week whose sole purpose was to determine how much Jones owed.
Jones, for his part, attempted to distance himself from the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories he touted, saying he was sorry if he hurt the plaintiffs’ feelings while conceding the massacre was “100% real”.
Reynal told jurors at trial that Jones and his Infowars website reported “irresponsibly” about Sandy Hook, but he argued his client could not be held responsible for the actions of his supporters.
Friday began with testimony from a financial expert who estimated that Jones and his media company Free Speech Systems had a combined value of between $135 million and $270 million. Pettingill added that Jones and his company made more than $50 million a year between 2016 and 2021 due to his persistent ‘rabid following’ even when he was banned from promoting himself on popular social media platforms. .
According to Pettingill, these estimates were complicated by the fact that Jones used a network of shell companies that own nothing and employ no one to transport his money. He also pointed to loans totaling more than $50 million that appeared to be intended to make his value appear lower, and he did not provide the financial documents Pettingill needed for a more accurate assessment.
Jones had prepared for Friday. Free Speech Systems filed for federal bankruptcy protection last week, a filing that Jones said would help the company stay on the air as it appeals the outcome of the case in court in Austin, in Texas, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble.
Jones’ appeal would seek to significantly reduce the jury’s sentence against him, if not eliminate it entirely. On Friday, Reynal had argued that $270,000 in punitive damages was fair, relying on a state law capping those damages at a significantly lower amount than the jury awarded.
The recent bankruptcy petition of Austin-based Free Speech Systems put a similar but larger libel suit in Connecticut on hold brought by numerous Sandy Hook families who also already won in default due to Jones’ lack of response. Jones is also facing another case in Texas brought by other parents.
Additionally, following one of the most memorable episodes of the trial heard by Guerra Gamble, Jones could face perjury charges. Another plaintiffs’ lawyer, Mark Bankston, revealed to Jones on Wednesday that the conspiracy theorist’s legal team inadvertently provided text messages he wrote dating back to 2019, including those that apparently contradicted sworn claims according to which he had nothing on his phone about the Sandy Hook murders.
Jones’ team was aware of the accidental leak but took no action to prevent the communications from going to court, Bankston added. The congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has since asked Bankston to turn over those texts, which were in the possession of one of former President Donald Trump’s most prominent supporters.
A host of Trump sycophants, including white supremacist groups, led the attack on the Capitol. And the committee wants to see what the ousted president’s team may have had with Jones before the pro-Trump mob tries to disrupt certification of his loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
Unless a judge orders him to do otherwise, Bankston said he intends to comply with the committee’s request.
The baseless Sandy Hook conspiracy is far from the only such theory that Jones has propagated on Infowars, which is often ridiculed in some quarters for selling pills marketed as helping men achieve firmer erections.
He also lied about a Washington DC pizzeria harboring a child sex abuse ring, inspiring a man to go there and shoot a high-powered rifle inside. Another centered on a myth that a yogurt factory supported child rapists who spread tuberculosis.
Jones was forced to apologize for both. He did not appear to be in the courtroom for Friday’s verdict reading.
Meanwhile, since the murder of her son, Scarlett Lewis started the Choose Love Foundation, whose mission is to promote social and emotional education as well as general compassion in schools. The foundation’s name honors a message Jesse left on a kitchen board shortly before he was killed.