Alex Jones ordered to pay Sandy Hook parents more than $4M
A Texas jury on Thursday ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to award more than $4 million — significantly less than the $150 million requested — in restitution to the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed in the Sandy Hook massacre. Killed, pay, that this is the first time. The Infowars host has been held financially responsible for repeatedly falsely claiming the deadliest school shooting in US history.
An Austin jury has yet to decide how much the Infowars operator should pay in punitive damages to Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse Lewis was among the 20 children and six teachers killed in the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.
The parents had sought at least $150 million in damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Jones’ attorney asked the jury to limit damages to $8 — one dollar for each compensatory charge they considered — and Jones himself said any award above $2 million “would overwhelm us.”
It likely won’t be the last judgment against Jones — who was not in court — because of his claims that the attack was carried out in favor of increased gun control. A Connecticut judge ruled against him in a similar lawsuit brought by other victims’ families and an FBI agent who worked on the case. He also faces another trial in Austin.
Andino Rinal, Jones’ lead attorney, winked at his lawyer before leaving the courtroom. He refused to comment on this verdict.
Outside court, plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Bankston insisted that the $4.11 million was not disappointing, noting that it was only part of the damages Jones had to pay.
The jury returns Friday to hear more evidence about Jones and his company’s finances.
In a video posted on his website Thursday night, Jones called the reduced award a huge victory.
“I admitted that I was wrong. I admit it was wrong I admit I followed wrong information but not on purpose. I apologized to the families. And the jury found out. What I did to those families was wrong. But I didn’t do it on purpose.”
The award “made more money than my company and me personally, but we’re trying to make up for it,” Jones said.
Bankston suggested that any declaration of victory might be premature.
“We’re not done, folks,” Bankston said. We knew going into this case we needed to shoot for the moon so the jury knew we were serious and passionate. “After tomorrow, he will owe a lot more.”
The total amount awarded in this case could be indicative of other lawsuits against Jones and underscore the financial threat he faces. It also raises new questions about the ability of Infowars — which has been banned from YouTube, Spotify and Twitter for hate speech — to continue operating, although the company’s financial situation remains unclear.
Jones, who described the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights, admitted during the trial that the attack was “100% real” and that he was wrong to lie about it. But Hesslin and Lewis told jurors that an apology was not enough and asked them to make Jones pay for the years of suffering he caused them and other Sandy Hook families.
Parents testified Tuesday about how they endured a decade of trauma, first with their son’s murder and what followed: shots fired at their home, online and phone threats, and street harassment by strangers. They said the threats and harassment were all fueled by Jones and his conspiracy theory spread to his followers through the Infowars website.
A forensic psychiatrist testified that the parents suffered from “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” caused by ongoing trauma, similar to what might be experienced by a soldier in combat or a victim of child abuse.
At one point in his testimony, Lewis looked directly at Jones, who was sitting barely 10 feet away.
“I find it incredible that we have to do this—that we have to beg you, to chastise you—to get you to stop lying,” Lewis told Jones.
Barry Covert, a First Amendment attorney in Buffalo, N.Y., who is not involved in the Jones case, said the $4 million settlement was less than he expected given the evidence and testimony.
“But I don’t think Jones can take this as a victory,” he added. “The reality is that $4 million is significant, even if we thought it would be a little higher.”
Juries often refuse to award any punitive damages after deciding on a compensatory figure. But when they decide, the penalty amount is often higher, Covert said. He said he expected the parents’ lawyers to argue that the jury should send the message that no one should profit from defamation.
“They want jurors to send the message that you can’t make a quarter of a billion profit by injuring somebody and say you’re going to get damages in court,” Covert said.
Jones was the only witness to testify in his own defense and, while still on his show, made only sporadic court appearances. And he has come under fire from plaintiffs’ lawyers as they investigate Jones’ own video claims about Sandy Hook over the years, accusing him of lying and trying to hide evidence, including text messages and emails about the attack. It also included internal emails sent by an Infowars employee saying, “This Sandy Hook stuff is killing us.”
At one point, Jones was told that his attorneys had mistakenly sent Bankston text messages from Jones’ cell phone from the past two years. Bankston said in court Thursday that the Jan. 6 House committee investigating the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol has requested the records and he plans to comply.
And shortly after Jones declared, “I don’t use email,” Jones was shown one from his address, and another from an Infowars business officer who told Jones the company was selling 800,000 of its products in one day. gross income in dollars. which is nearly 300 million dollars in one year.
Jones’ media company Free Speech Systems, which is the parent company of Infowars, filed for bankruptcy during the two-week trial.
Associated Press writer Michael Thurm in Chicago contributed to this report.
For more AP news coverage of school shootings: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings