AUSTIN, Texas – A Texas grand jury ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Friday to pay the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting $45.2 million. damages for spreading the lie that they helped orchestrate the massacre.
The jury announced its decision the day after awarding the awards to the parents more than 4 million dollars in damages and following testimony on Friday that Mr Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of his misinformation media establishment, Infowars, are worth $135 million to $270 million.
Mr. Jones found responsible last year for smearing the victim’s family while spreading bogus theories that the shooting was part of a government plot to confiscate firearms from Americans and that the victim’s family was complicit in the conspiracy. this.
Compensatory damages are based on proven damage, loss or injury and are generally calculated based on the fair market value of the damaged property, lost wages and expenses, according to Cornell Law School. Punitive damages are intended to punish particularly harmful conduct and tend to be granted at the discretion of the court, and sometimes many multiples of a compensatory award.
The case was decided this week by Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, died in the attack in Newtown, Conn. This is the first to arise from several lawsuits filed by the victim’s parents in 2018.
“This is an important day for truth, for justice, and I couldn’t be happier,” Ms. Lewis said in the courtroom after sentencing.
Before jurors began weighing punitive damages, Wesley Todd Ball, an attorney for the family, told the jury they had “the ability to send a message to all the people on earth.” This country, and perhaps the whole world, hears it.”
“We ask you to send a very, very simple message, which is: Stop Alex Jones,” he said. “Stop making money from misinformation and lies. Please.”
Mr. Ball asked the jury for about $146 million in damages, in addition to the $4 million in punitive damages awarded Thursday.
How much Mr Jones will actually have to pay in punitive damages will certainly be the subject of further litigation. Texas law limits punitive damages to twice compensatory damages plus $750,000.
But Mark Bankston, an attorney for Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis, told reporters on Thursday that the matter will likely end up before the Texas Supreme Court, and legal experts say there are disagreements over constitutionality of the cap.
Understanding the Case Against Alex Jones
A united front. Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist, is the focus of a protracted legal battle was conducted by the families of the victims of a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. Here’s what to know:
Mr. Jones’ attorney, F. Andino Reynal, said the punitive award would eventually be reduced to $1.5 million.
Mr. Jones believes that “the First Amendment is under siege, and he looks forward to continuing the fight,” Reynal said after the ruling.
After the jury award, judge Maya Guerra Gamble also cleared the way for another step that could prove problematic for Mr. Jones.
The family’s attorneys revealed during the trial that Mr Jones’ team had sent them, apparently inadvertently, a huge cache of information data from Mr. Jones’ mobile phoneand on Friday, Judge Gamble said she would not stand in the way of attorneys for Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis deliver messages to law enforcement and House committees on January 6.
The committee subpoenaed Jones in its investigation of his role in helping to plan the pro-Trump rally in Washington on January 6, 2021, before the attack on the Capitol.
In the Sandy Hook defamation cases, a trial for damages in another suit is expected to begin next month in Connecticut, but it could be delayed because of bankruptcy last week by Free Speech Systems. The family’s lawyers criticized the move as another effort Jones to shield his wealth and evade judgment.
The Texas case allowed the plaintiffs to present testimony about Mr. Jones’ wealth and the operations of his companies, which in addition to conducting his broadcasts also made money by selling goods.
Bernard Pettingill Jr., a forensic economist and former professor of economics at the Florida Institute of Technology, testified to Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis on Friday that Mr. Jones was “a very successful person.”
Mr. Pettingill said Infowars averaged $53.2 million in annual revenue from September 2015 to December 2018. Since then, the company’s revenue has “increased nicely,” including whole word selling goods and supplements to survivorsand it brought in nearly $65 million last year, he said.
Mr Pettingill said at one point Mr. Jones was paying himself an average of $6 million a year.
In its bankruptcy filing, Free Speech Systems reported assets of $14.3 million as of May 31, with $1.9 million in net income and nearly $11 million in product sales. Free Speech Systems also has debt of nearly $79.2 million, 68% of which is in the form of a letter to PQPR Holdingsan organization named Mr. Jones as its manager.
Last year, after Mr. Jones was found liable by default in the Sandy Hook case, he began transferring $11,000 a day into PQPR, Mr. Pettingill said.
The “huge” loan from PQPR, a shell company without any employees, was in fact Mr. Jones “using the bill as cash to repay himself”, Mr Pettingill said, although Mr. though Mr. Jones’s attorney insists that PQPR is a real company. . Another note is set to mature when Mr Jones is 74 years old (he is now 48 years old).
Mr Pettingill said he had tracked down nine private companies linked to Jones, but had to collect information in part because Mr Jones’ team resisted the discovery warrant.
“We couldn’t really pinpoint what he does for a living, how he actually makes money,” he said.
“His org chart is an inverted T, which means it all boils down to Alex Jones. Alex Jones has made all the important decisions, and I think Alex Jones knows where the money is,” said Mr. Pettingill. “He may say he’s bankrupt, he has no money, but we know that’s incorrect.”
Mr Reynal, Mr Jones’ attorney, said in a statement closing on Friday that “we have not received any evidence of what Alex Jones actually has today, we have not received any What FSS have today, what money they have, what assets they have to pay.”
Mr. Jones and associates such as Communication Network GenesisThe company that has helped supply his gigs for decades, has announced financial layoffs, using defamation cases as an opportunity to beg fans for donations.
Mr. Jones complained that his revenue had dropped after forbidden from major social media platforms in 2018. Mr. Bankston countered in court on Wednesday: “Well, after de-adjusting, your numbers keep getting better,” he said.
Following Friday’s ruling, Ms Lewis stressed the importance of her having a chance at trial directly confront Mr. Jones in the courtroom earlier this week.
“I had to look him in the eye and I had to tell him the impact his actions had on me and my family, not just us – all the other Sandy Hook families, everyone lived in Sandy Hook and then the ripple effect was around the world,” she said. “It was an emotional moment for me.”
It was also important, she said, that Mr Jones had seen a video presented to the court of Jesse alive, running through a field. “I think he was punished,” she said of Mr. Jones. “I think he has to take responsibility, and I hope he really remembers this because in the end love is a choice, and what he put out there – lies, hatred – that is also an option.”
Elizabeth Williamson reported from Austin, Tiffany Hsu from San Francisco and Michael Levenson from New York.