A Texas jury on Friday ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a child who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
It adds to the $4.1 million he must pay for the suffering he put them through by claiming for years that the nation’s deadliest school shooting was a hoax.
The total — $49.3 million — is less than the $150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose six-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among the 20 children and six educators killed in the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.
But the trial marks the first time Jones has been held financially liable for peddling lies about the massacre, claiming it was faked by the government to tighten gun laws.
Afterward, Lewis said that Jones — who wasn't in the courtroom to hear the verdict — has been held accountable. She said when she took the stand and looked Jones in the eye, she thought of her son, who was credited with saving lives by yelling “run” when the killer paused in his rampage.
“He stood up to the bully Adam Lanza and saved nine of his classmates’ lives," Lewis said. "I hope that I did that incredible courage justice when I was able to confront Alex Jones, who is also a bully. I hope that inspires other people to do the same.”
Jones, who has portrayed the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights, conceded during the trial that the attack was “100% real” and that he was wrong to have lied about it. But Heslin and Lewis told jurors that an apology wouldn’t suffice and called on them to make Jones pay for the years of suffering he has put them and other Sandy Hook families through.
The parents told jurors they’ve endured a decade of trauma, inflicted first by the murder of their son and what followed: gunshots fired at a home, online and phone threats, and harassment on the street by strangers. They said the threats and harassment were all fueled by Jones and his conspiracy theory spread to his followers via his website Infowars.
A forensic psychiatrist testified that the parents suffer from “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” inflicted by ongoing trauma, similar to what might be experienced by a soldier at war or a child abuse victim.
Friday's damages drew praise from the American Federation of Teachers union, which represented the teachers at Sandy Hook.
“Nothing will ever fix the pain of losing a child, or of watching that tragedy denied for political reasons. But I’m glad the parents of Sandy Hook have gotten some justice," union President Randi Weingarten said in a tweet.
Throughout the trial, Jones was his typically bombastic self, talking about conspiracies on the witness stand, during impromptu news conferences and on his show. His erratic behavior is unusual by courtroom standards, and the judge scolded him, telling him at one point: “This is not your show.”
Jones' companies and personal wealth could also get carved up by other lawsuits and bankruptcy. Another defamation lawsuit against Jones by a Sandy Hook family is set to start pretrial hearings in the same Austin court on Sept. 14. He faces yet another defamation lawsuit in Connecticut.
His lead attorney, Andino Reynal, told the judge he will appeal and ask the courts to drastically reduce the size of the verdict.
Jones' company Free Speech Systems, which is Infowars' Austin-based parent company, filed for bankruptcy protection during the first week of the trial.
Attorneys for the family had urged jurors to hand down a financial punishment that would force Infowars to shut down.
“You have the ability to stop this man from ever doing it again,” Wesley Ball, an attorney for the parents, told the jury Friday. “Send the message to those who desire to do the same: Speech is free. Lies, you pay for."
Lawyers for the Sandy Hook families suing Jones contend he has tried to hide evidence of his true wealth in various shell companies.
During his testimony, Jones was confronted with a memo from one of his business managers outlining a single day's gross revenue of $800,000 from selling vitamin supplements and other products through his website, which would approach nearly $300 million in a year. Jones called it a record sales day.