Jury awards $45.2 million in punitive damages in Alex Jones Sandy Hook trial

Aug 5 (Reuters) – US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is to pay the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre $45.2 million in punitive damages – in addition to 4, $1 million in compensatory damages already awarded — for falsely claiming the shooting was a hoax, a Texas jury decided on Friday.

Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, estranged parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, testified that Jones supporters harassed them and sent them death threats for years, mistakenly believing they were lying about the death of their son on December 14. 2012 shooting that killed 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The 12 jurors decided on punitive damages a day after determining compensatory damages following a two-week trial in the libel trial presided over by Judge Maya Guerra Gamble in state court. from Austin, the capital of Texas, where Jones’ radio show and far-right Infowars webcast are based.

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Jones, a prominent figure in US right-wing circles and a supporter of former President Donald Trump, had called the Sandy Hook massacre a staged US government hoax using crisis actors as a pretext to withdraw the American weapons.

After the verdict, Lewis told reporters the outcome of the trial showed “we can choose love”, adding, “We are all responsible for each other.”

The parents had sought $145.9 million in punitive damages and $150 million in compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are awarded to cover a plaintiff’s suffering and loss. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the actions of a defendant.

A lawyer for Jones, Federico Andino Reynal, had asked jurors 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 capped punitive damages at $750,000 per plaintiff.

Reynal later told Reuters he aimed to minimize compensatory damages throughout the trial, knowing there was a cap on punitive damages.

“We always knew it was going to be a backstop, so the strategy worked,” Reynal said, referring to the cap.

Punitive damages were assessed at $4.2 million for Jones defaming Heslin by questioning that he was holding his dead son after the shooting and $20.5 million each to Heslin and Lewis for mental anguish.

“We’re asking you to send a very, very simple message, and that’s: stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies,” parents’ attorney Wesley Todd Ball told jurors on Friday before they do not begin deliberations on punitive measures. damage.

Jones sought to distance himself from conspiracy theories during his trial testimony, apologizing to parents and acknowledging that Sandy Hook was “100% real”.

Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza used a Remington Bushmaster rifle during the massacre, which ended when he killed himself to the sound of approaching police sirens.

“REALLY A BAD ACTOR”

The judge chastised Jones during the trial for not telling the truth when testifying about his bankruptcy and failure to comply with document requests.

Attorney Doug Mirell, a libel litigation expert not involved in the case, said the issue of Jones’ truthfulness on the witness stand could have played a role in the jury’s award of damages. punitive damages, noting that it is unusual to award far more punitive than compensatory damages. damage.

“The jury may have simply clung to their revulsion at the lies and decided that Mr. Jones was a really bad actor,” Mirell told Reuters.

Forensic economist Bernard Pettingill said Friday that Jones and Infowars were worth between $135 million and $270 million combined.

Jones’ company, Free Speech Systems LLC, filed for bankruptcy last week. Jones said on a Monday show that the filing will help the company stay on the air while it appeals.

The bankruptcy filing stayed a similar defamation lawsuit filed by Sandy Hook’s parents in Connecticut where, like in Texas, he has already been found liable. The bankruptcy will also put on hold another defamation lawsuit brought by Sandy Hook’s parents in Texas, Reynal told Reuters.

During closing arguments on Wednesday, Kyle Farrar, an attorney for the parents, urged the jury to end what he called their nightmare and hold Jones accountable for profiting from their son’s death. Reynal acknowledged in closing argument that Jones and Infowars “irresponsibly” reported Sandy Hook, but said his client was not responsible for the harassment.

Plaintiffs accused Jones of approaching the lawsuit in bad faith, citing broadcasts in which he said the proceedings were rigged against him and the jury was full of people who ‘don’t know what planet they are on. “.

Reynal promised Friday that Jones would continue to do his job “holding the power structure accountable.”

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Reporting by Jack Queen in New York; Additional reporting by Jacqueline Thomsen in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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