Alex Jones speaks with media after day six of trial at the Travis County Courthouse, in Austin, August 2, 2022.
Briana Sanchez | Pool | via Reuters
A Texas jury on Friday ordered Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim, a day after deciding the Infowars host must pay them $4.1 million in compensatory damages for the suffering caused by his lies about the 2012 massacre.
Wesley Ball, an attorney for Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse, was killed in the attack in Newtown, Connecticut, had asked the jury to award them $149.5 million to reach the $150 million they initially sought.
Ball argued that only such a large sum would be enough to “take the bullhorn away” from Jones.
“I ask that with your verdict, you not only take Alex Jones’ platform that he talks about away. I ask that you make sure that he can’t rebuild the platform. That’s what matters,” he said. “That is punishment, that is deterrence.”
Jones’ attorney Andino Reynal told jurors they had already sent a message to Jones and other talk show hosts with the $4.1 million judgment that “their standard of care has to be different.” He also argued that a substantial award would only serve to discourage people who question “government officials who dropped the ball” from doing so.
Reynal objected to the decision, arguing that the verdict did not comply with Texas law, which caps the actual award at $750,000 per plaintiff. The judge acknowledged the objection and added that the law implies that in the state “we don’t trust our juries.”
Punitive damages are intended to punish someone for especially harmful behavior.
The jury’s decision followed expert testimony from forensic economist Bernard Pettingill whose testimony was intended to give jurors a picture of how much money Jones has and, by extension, how much it would take to punish him for his behavior. Pettingill estimated that Jones and his companies are worth $135 million to $270 million — an amount his defense team disputed — and said that Jones and his companies made more money after being “deplatformed” by several social media outlets in 2018. Jones has maintained throughout the trial that his companies suffered losses since he was removed from the sites.
Pettingill also testified that Jones began paying $11,000 a day into a shell company he controls after he was found liable in a default judgment in the Sandy Hook case.
“He is a very successful man,” he testified. “He promulgated some hate speech and some misinformation but he made a lot of money and he monetized that.”
The jury in this case had only been asked to decide whether Jones, who has already been found liable by a judge because he did not hand over critical evidence before the trial began, must also pay Jesse’s parents for the emotional distress and reputational damage caused by his false claims.
The trial included testimony from both parents and Jones, who has portrayed the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights. Following the massacre, he had asserted that it was fabricated and included crisis actors. He later acknowledged that it took place.
Heslin and Lewis testified Tuesday that Jones’ lies left them in fear for their lives and compounded their grief.
“Having a 6-year-old son shot in front of his classroom is unbearable and you don’t think you’re going to survive and then to have someone on top of that perpetuate a lie that it was a hoax, that it was a false flag,” Lewis said, speaking directly to Jones during her testimony. “I don’t think you understand the fear you perpetuate, not just to the victim’s family but to our family, our friends and any survivor from that school.”
The crux of the trial is a 2017 episode of NBC’s “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly,” on which Heslin appeared and challenged Jones’ denial of the shooting. Heslin says in the episode: “I held my son with a bullet hole through his head.”
Jones and another Infowars host, Owen Shroyer, later implied that Heslin had lied.
Heslin and Lewis are among several Sandy Hook families who have filed lawsuits against Jones arguing that his statements that the mass shooting was a hoax have led to years of abuse from his followers.