Alex Jones ordered to pay $45.2 million more in punitive damages to Sandy Hook parents
Infowars founder Alex Jones was ordered by an Austin jury on Friday to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed in the Sandy Hook mass shooting, in addition to the $4.1 million Jones has been ordered to pay in compensatory damages.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, sought $145.9 million in punitive damages against Jones, a conspiracy theorist who falsely claimed that the deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history was a "giant hoax." Since the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 26 people, 20 of them young children, the boy's parents say Jones's remarks have created a "living hell" for the family.
The decision comes one day after Jones was ordered to pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages - a ruling that the 48-year-old claimed was "a major victory for truth."
The total of $49.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages is less than a third of the $150 million total that the family was seeking, and it remains to be seen how much of the punitive damages the parents will ultimately receive as Texas laws cap such rewards.
The family pursued the $150 million figure in damages based on $1 in compensation and $1 in punishment for the estimated 75 million people who experts claim either don't believe the Sandy Hook shooting happened or have doubts about it, according to their attorneys.
Jones was previously found by judges in Connecticut and Texas to be liable for damages in lawsuits stemming from his false claims that the shooting was a "false flag" operation carried out by "crisis actors." Two other cases to determine damages are ongoing.
Though he eventually retracted his false claims about the shooting, Jones has been banned from major platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Spotify.
During the trial in Austin, where Infowars is headquartered, Jones and his attorney were confronted with leaked text messages from Jones's own cellphone, which the Sandy Hook parents' attorneys said had been sent to him by mistake. This included a text message of Jones replying to an Infowars staffer warning him to take down an article alleging COVID-19 is fake, according to NBC News.
"A year and a half ago, [Jones] is literally telling everyone COVID is fake and he knows he's lying," the Sandy Hook lawyers reportedly said Friday, referring to Jones's text message. "He's not going to stop."
The leaked text messages could also be of interest in the Jan. 6 hearing, and Mark Bankston, one of the Sandy Hook parents' attorneys, said he will comply with the U.S. House Jan. 6 committee's request for two years' worth of records from Jones's phone.
Bernard Pettingill, an economic consultant, estimated in testimony Friday that the net worth of Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of Infowars, was somewhere between $135 million and $270 million. Pettingill added that Jones was paying himself an average of $6 million annually. Alex Jones's lead attorney, Andino Reynal, said last week that Free Speech Systems had filed for bankruptcy.
Jones has claimed in court filings that he has a net worth of negative $20 million, but attorneys for the Sandy Hook families have pointed to records showing that Jones's Infowars store made more than $165 million between 2015 and 2018 alone.
Wes Ball, an attorney for the Sandy Hook parents, urged the jury not to believe Jones's claims about his financial status, saying, "When this man talks, he lies."
"Please take an amount that punishes him, and an amount that ensures he never does this again," Bankston said, according to NBC News.
Unsurprisingly, Reynal recommended that the jury order Jones to pay a much smaller amount. Reynal suggested that the jury take the gross sum that Jones earns per hour, which is $14,000, and multiply it by the number of minutes the Infowars founder took in defaming Heslin and Lewis, which he estimated to be more than 19 minutes total. If that were applied, Reynal argued, then the family should get a total of $270,000.