By JIM VERTUNO
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas jury on Friday ordered Infowars’ Alex Jones to pay $49.3 million in total damages to the parents of a first-grader killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which the conspiracy theorist falsely called a hoax orchestrated by the government in order to tighten U.S. gun laws.
The amount is less than the $150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among 19 children and six educators killed in the deadliest classroom shooting in U.S. history.
The trial is the first time Jones has been held financially liable for peddling lies about the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.
Jurors at first awarded Heslin and Lewis $4.1 million in compensatory damages, which Jones called a major victory. But in the final phase of the two-week trial, the same Austin jury came back and tacked on an additional $45.2 million in punitive damages.
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.
Attorneys for the family had urged jurors to hand down a financial punishment that would put Infowars out of business.
“You have the ability to stop this man from ever doing it again,” Wesley Ball, an attorney for the parents, told the jury.
It’s unclear how much money Jones and Infowars’ parent company, Free Speech Systems, have.
An economist hired by the plaintiffs testified that Jones and the company are worth up to $270 million, suggesting that Jones was still making money.
But Jones testified that any award over $2 million would “sink us.” And Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy protection during the trial’s first week.
Jones still faces two other defamation lawsuits from Sandy Hook families in Texas and Connecticut.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his company Free Speech Systems are worth up to $270 million, an economist testified Friday to a jury trying to determine if Jones should have to pay punitive damages to the family of a 6-year-old killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
The same jury ordered Jones to pay Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis $4.1 million in compensation for defamation. Jurors began considering additional punitive damages Friday as a separate issue. The parents want to punish Jones for a decade of pushing false hoax claims that they say led to a decade of trauma and abuse from the Infowars host’s followers.
Bernard Pettingill, who was hired by the plaintiffs to study Jones’ net worth, said records show that Jones withdrew $62 million for himself in 2021, when default judgments were issued in lawsuits against him.
“That number represents, in my opinion, a value of a net worth,” Pettingill said. “He’s got money put in a bank account somewhere.”
The money that flows into …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Latest News
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