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, adding to the $4.1 million he has to 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 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among the 20 children and six educators killed in the deadliest classroom shooting in U.S. history. But the trial marks the first time Jones has been held financially liable for peddling lies about the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.
Read more: Alex Jones case: Sandy Hook family seeks punitive damages on top of $4.1M awarded
After the verdict, Lewis said that Jones 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.”
Earlier this week, Jones testified that any award over $2 million would “sink us.” His company Free Speech Systems, which is Infowars’ parent company, filed for bankruptcy protection during the first week of the trial.
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.
Barry Covert, a Buffalo, New York, First Amendment lawyer with no connection to the Jones case, said Friday’s high punitive award added to Thursday’s compensatory award amounts to “a stunning loss for Jones.”
“With $50 million in all, the jury has sent a huge, loud message that this behavior will not be tolerated,” Covert said. “Everyone with a show like this who knowingly tells lies _ juries will not tolerate it.”
Future jurors in other pending Sandy Hook trials could see the damages amounts in this case as a benchmark, Covert said. And if other juries do, Covert said, “it could very well put Jones out of business.”
Attorneys for the family had urged jurors to hand down a financial punishment that would force Inforwars 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.”
China suspends dialogue with U.S., sanctions Pelosi over Taiwan visit
Video: B.C. hockey fight, with apparent kick to the face, under investigation
An economist testified Friday that Jones and the company are worth up to $270 million, suggesting that Jones was still making money.
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 Jones’ companies eventually funnels its way to him, said Pettingill, who added that he has testified in approximately 1,500 cases during his career.
But Jones’ lawyers said their client had already learned his lesson, and asked for lenience, saying the punitive amount should be less than $300,000.
Read more: Father of Sandy Hook victim calls Alex Jones’ apologies ‘worthless’ at defamation trial