American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones you will have to pay the parents of a 6-year-old child killed in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 $45.2 million (€44.40 million) in punitive damages, in addition to the $4.1 million (€4 million) in compensatory damages already awarded, for falsely claiming the shooting was a hoax , a Texas jury decided Friday.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, parents of murdered 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, testified that Jones’s supporters harassed them and sent them death threats for years under the false belief that they were lying about their son’s death on December 14. 2012 shooting that killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The 12-member juror decided on punitive damages a day after determining compensatory damages, following a two-week trial in the defamation lawsuit presided over by Judge Maya Guerra Gamble in state court in the Texas capital, Austin, from where are they issued the far-right radio show and website Infowars.
Jones, a leading figure in American right-wing circles and a supporter of former President Donald Trump, described the Sandy Hook massacre as a hoax by the US government, staged using crisis actors to serve as a pretext to take the weapons away from the Americans.
After the verdict, Lewis told reporters that the outcome of the trial showed that “we can choose love”, adding: “We are all responsible for each other.”
The parents had claimed $145.9 million in punitive damages and $150 million in compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are awarded to cover the plaintiff’s suffering and losses. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the actions of the defendant.
An attorney for Jones, Federico Andino Reynal, had asked the jury to return a verdict of $270,000 in punitive damages based on the number of hours Infowars spent covering Sandy Hook.
Outside the courthouse, Reynal told reporters the verdict was high, but Texas law limits punitive damages to $750,000 per plaintiff. Reynal later told Reuters that his goal was to minimize compensatory damages throughout the trial knowing that there is a limit to punitive damages. “We always knew that was in our favour, so the strategy worked,” Reynal said, referring to the cap.
Punitive damages were set at $4.2 million for Jones for defaming Heslin by questioning his holding their dead son after the shooting and $20.5 million each for Heslin and Lewis for mental anguish.
“We ask you to send a very, very simple message, and that is: dhold Alex Jones. Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies,” Wesley Todd Ball, an attorney for the parents, told the jury Friday before deliberations on punitive measures began. damages.
Jones sought to distance himself from conspiracy theories during his trial testimony, apologizing to the parents and acknowledging that Sandy Hook was “100% real.” Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza used a Remington Bushmaster rifle during the massacre, which ended when he killed himself to the sound of approaching police sirens.
“A Bad Actor”
The judge admonished Jones during the trial for not telling the truth during her testimony about her bankruptcy and failure to comply with document requests.
Attorney Doug Mirell, a defamation litigation expert who was not involved in the case, said the issue of Jones’s veracity on the witness stand could have played a role in the jury’s award of punitive damages, and noted that it is unusual to award significantly more in punitive than compensatory damages. damages.
“It is possible that the jury simply stuck to its disgust at the lies and decided that Mr. Jones is a really bad actor,” Mirell told Reuters.
Forensic economist Bernard Pettingill testified Friday that Jones and Infowars are worth between $135 million and $270 million combined.
Jones’ company, Free Speech Systems LLC, filed for bankruptcy protection last week. Jones said during a Monday broadcast that the filing will help the company stay on the air while it appeals.
The bankruptcy filing halted a similar defamation lawsuit brought by the Sandy Hook parents in Connecticut, where, like in Texas, they were already held liable. The bankruptcy will also stop another defamation lawsuit from the Sandy Hook parents in Texas, Reynal told Reuters.
The lawyer who defended conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in a Texas trial grabbed his own national headlines this week for accidentally handing over highly sensitive data to his adversaries, exposing him to potential legal consequences. Houston attorney Federico Andino Reynal acknowledged that Jones’s legal team had provided attorneys for the parents of a child killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting with a digital copy of the contents of the Infowars founder’s phone, which included text messages and medical records.
The revelation was made public by an attorney for the parents in a dramatic exchange with Jones as the trial neared its end. The revelation may have exposed Reynal to sanctions in a different case, as well as the possibility of malpractice lawsuits by Jones, according to court documents and attorneys who followed the trial.
Jones could bring a malpractice lawsuit against his attorneys, but he would have to show that he would have had a better outcome at the Texas trial if the phone information had not been released, said Randy Johnston, a Dallas malpractice attorney.
“Any complaint I would make is essentially ‘if it hadn’t been for my attorneys, I would have been a successful liar,'” Johnston said.
Johnston said information about Jones’ phone relevant to the Sandy Hook claims should have been provided to the plaintiffs before trial, as part of a court-supervised process. Once Jones’ attorneys discovered they had accidentally shared phone records, they should have at least warned Jones before he was on the stand, he said.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.