Tuesday, Aug. 09, 2022|
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AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas jury on Friday ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a child who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, adding to the $4.1 million he must pay for the suffering he put them through by claiming for years that the nation’s deadliest school shooting was a hoax.
The total — $49.3 million — is less than the $150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among the 20 children and six educators killed in the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut. But the trial marks the first time Jones has been held financially liable for peddling lies about the massacre.
Afterward, Lewis said that Jones — who wasn’t in the courtroom to hear the verdict — has been held accountable. She said when she took the stand and looked Jones in the eye, she thought of her son, who was credited with saving lives by yelling “run” when the killer paused in his rampage.
“He stood up to the bully Adam Lanza and saved nine of his classmates’ lives,” Lewis said. “I hope that I did that incredible courage justice when I was able to confront Alex Jones, who is also a bully. I hope that inspires other people to do the same.”
It could be awhile before the plaintiffs collect anything. Jones’ lead attorney, Andino Reynal, told the judge he will appeal and ask the courts to drastically reduce the size of the verdict.
After the hearing, Reynal said he thinks the punitive amount will be reduced to as little as $1.5 million.
‘We think the verdict was too high. … Alex Jones will be on the air today, he’ll be on the air tomorrow, he’ll be on the air next week. He’s going to keep doing his job holding the power structure accountable.”
Jones’ companies and personal wealth could also get carved up by other lawsuits and bankruptcy. Another defamation lawsuit against Jones by a Sandy Hook family is set to start pretrial hearings in the same Austin court on Sept. 14. He faces yet another defamation lawsuit in Connecticut.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Bankston said he believes he can challenge any attempt to reduce the damages. But he said even if the award is drastically cut, it’s just as important to take the big verdict into the bankruptcy court for the family to claim against Jones’ estate and company.
Jones testified this week that any award over $2 million would “sink us.” His company Free Speech Systems, which is Infowars’ Austin-based parent company, filed for bankruptcy protection during the first week of the trial.
Punitive damages are meant to punish defendants for particularly egregious conduct, beyond monetary compensation awarded to the individuals they hurt. A high punitive award is also seen as a chance for jurors to send a wider societal message and a way to deter others from the same abhorrent conduct in the future.
Barry Covert, a Buffalo, New York, First Amendment lawyer with no connection to the Jones case, said the total damages awarded amount to “a stunning loss for Jones.”
“With $50 million in all, the jury has sent a huge, loud message that this behavior will not be tolerated,” Covert said. “Everyone with a show like this who knowingly tells lies — juries will not tolerate it.”