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A Texas jury on Friday added $45.2 million to the damages that conspiracy theorist and media personality Alex Jones must pay the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim as punishment for repeatedly claiming that the school shooting was a hoax.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of 6-year-old victim Jesse Lewis, sought $150 million from Jones after he told listeners of his Austin-based website and broadcast Infowars that the government staged the shooting of Sandy Hook to take the Americans away. ‘guns. The tragedy was the nation’s second-deadliest school shooting, killing 20 6- and 7-year-olds and six adults.
On Thursday, the jury ordered Jones to pay the parents $4.1 million in compensation for his comments, bringing the total amount owed to just under $50 million. Friday’s order determined punitive damages, which can be awarded to punish a defendant for reckless, negligent or outrageous behavior or to deter future bad acts.
Friday’s verdict offers less than what the parents hoped to win in addition to compensatory damages. One of their lawyers, Wesley Ball, urged the jury on Friday to award $145.9 million in punitive damages to meet the $150 million the parents sought. He said the jury had an opportunity to not only take away Jones’ rig, but to ensure he can’t rebuild it.
“I’m asking you to take the megaphone away from Alex Jones and everyone else who thinks they can profit from fear and misinformation,” Ball told the jury. “The gold rush of fear and disinformation must end, and it must end today.”
But Jones’ attorneys told the court they planned to appeal the amount, saying Texas law caps damages.
Jones has spread misinformation about national tragedies, COVID-19 and elections for years to a wide national audience. But lately, financial pressures, caused in part by lawsuits from Sandy Hook parents, have tested his media empire. His companies have filed for bankruptcy several times in recent months, including most recently during the defamation trial. He faces two more trials scheduled for this year for his Sandy Hook misinformation: one in Texas and one in Connecticut.
Bernard Pettingill, an economic expert, testified Friday that his parent company, Free Speech Systems, paid $18 million between 2015 and 2018. He said Jones paid $61.9 million in 2021, when he was declared liable for defamation in two Sandy Hook cases.
Pettingill estimated that Jones’ net worth, combined with Free Speech Systems’ net worth, ranges from $135 million to $270 million. Jones himself did not testify about his net worth during the punitive damages phase of the trial.
Jones’ comments about the Sandy Hook shooting led his listeners to harass and make death threats against Heslin and Lewis, as well as the parents of other victims, for years. Heslin and Lewis said during their testimony that they could not heal from the loss and trauma they experienced while living in fear.
During his closing argument Friday, Jones’ attorney Andino Reynal argued that Heslin and Lewis had already received a lot of money in compensatory damages. He said the $4.1 million award amounts to $14,000 per hour of Sandy Hook coverage that Infowars aired.
“You’ve already sent a message,” Reynal told the jury. “A message for the first time to a talk show host, to all talk show hosts, that their standard of care needs to change.”
Reynal suggested the jury order $270,000 in punitive damages.
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