Jury awards $45.2 million in punitive damages in Alex Jones Sandy Hook trial

Aug 5 (Reuters) – U.S. conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre $45.2 million in punitive damages – on top of $4.1 million already awarded – for lying. The shooting was a hoax, a Texas jury decided Friday.

Neal Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the estranged parents of slain 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, testified that Jones’ supporters harassed them and made death threats over the years in false hopes of their son’s death on Dec. 14. 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut kills 20 children and six staff members.

Following a two-week trial of the defamation case in state court in the Texas capital, Austin, presided over by Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, 12 jurors set a day of punitive damages. The right webcast is based on Infowars.

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Jones, a prominent figure in US right-wing circles and a supporter of former President Donald Trump, called the Sandy Hook massacre a staged hoax using crisis actors as an excuse for the US government to take away Americans’ guns.

After the verdict, Lewis told reporters that the trial’s outcome showed that “we can choose love” and that “we are all responsible for each other.”

The parents are seeking $145.9 million in punitive damages and $150 million in compensatory damages. Compensation is awarded to cover the suffering and losses of the plaintiff. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the defendant’s actions.

Jones’ attorney, Federico Andino Reynal, asked jurors to award $270,000 in punitive damages based on the number of hours InfoWars devoted to Sandy Hook coverage.

Outside court, Reynold told reporters the verdict was high, but Texas law spells $750,000 in punitive damages per plaintiff.

Reynold later told Reuters that he had aimed to reduce compensatory damages throughout the trial, knowing there was a limit to punitive damages.

“We always knew it was going to be a backstop, so the strategy worked,” Reynold said, referring to the cap.

Jones was awarded $4.2 million for defaming Heslin and $20.5 million each to Heslin and Lewis for questioning her custody of their son, who died after the shooting.

“We ask that you send a very simple message. Damages.

Jones tried to distance himself from conspiracy theories during his testimony at the trial, apologizing to his parents and admitting that Sandy Hook was “100% real”.

Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza used a Remington Bushmaster rifle during the massacre, which ended with the sound of approaching police sirens.

‘A really bad actor’

The judge admonished Jones during the trial for not telling the truth during testimony about his bankruptcy and noncompliance with requests for documents.

Attorney Doug Mirrell, a defamation expert not involved in the case, said the question of Jones’ veracity on the witness stand could play a role in the jury’s award of punitive damages. damages.

“The jury could have hated the lies and decided that Mr. Jones really was a bad actor,” Mirrell told Reuters.

Forensic economist Bernard Bettingle testified Friday that Jones and Infowars were worth between $135 million and $270 million.

Jones’ company, Free Speech Systems LLC, filed for bankruptcy last week. Jones said during Monday’s broadcast that the company will help the broadcast while it appeals.

The bankruptcy filing puts on hold a similar defamation suit by Sandy Hook parents in Connecticut, where, like in Texas, she was already held liable. The bankruptcy also puts on hold another defamation lawsuit by Sandy Hook parents in Texas, Reynal told Reuters.

During closing arguments Wednesday, the parents’ attorney, Kyle Farrer, urged the jury to end what he called their nightmare and hold Jones responsible for profiting off their son’s death. During his closing argument, Reynall acknowledged that Jones and Infowars reported “irresponsibly” on Sandy Hook, but said his client was not responsible for the harassment.

Plaintiffs have alleged that Jones approached the trial in bad faith, citing broadcasts in which he said the proceedings against him were rigged and that the jury pool was filled with people who “didn’t know what planet they were on.”

Reynall vowed Friday that Jones would continue to do his job “holding the power structure accountable.”

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Reported by Jack Quinn in New York; Additional reporting by Jacqueline Thompson in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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