The compensatory damages paled in comparison to the punitive price tag.
A Texas jury punished conspiracy-peddler Alex Jones with a $45.2 million judgment for punitive damages Friday — on top of $4.1 in compensatory damages the jury awarded a family he defamed just a day earlier.
The punitive damages pushed Jones’ liability to nearly $50 million in a case brought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose son, Jesse Lewis, was one of 26 people killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
In all, 20 students and six teachers and administrators were killed that day. Victims’ families faced harassment from Jones’ acolytes after his misinformation on killings.
The InfoWars host claimed after the shooting that the massacre was a hoax designed to drum up support for gun-control measures.
After the decision, Scarlett Lewis ripped Jones and praised her late son.
“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 was deemed culpable in the lawsuit by reason of default after refusing to provide court-ordered records, admitted in testimony earlier this week that the killing of 20 children and six educators at the Newtown, Conn., school was in fact “100% real.”
On Friday, jurors in Austin, Texas, heard the plaintiff’s team claim Jones is worth between $135 million and $270 million and that the $4.1 million Jones was ordered to shell out Thursday would not impact the right-wing broadcaster “one bit,” nor would it deter him from continuing to disseminate dangerous misinformation.
The plaintiffs initially had asked for $150 million, which their lawyer argued was still the amount Jones should pay in total. Jurors were asked that “they don’t reward” Jones for pushing disinformation.
Punitive damages are typically awarded as punishment for what’s seen as particularly bad behavior. That’s exactly what Jones engaged in, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyer.
“You have the ability to stop this man from ever doing it again,” attorney Wesley Ball told the jury. “Send the message to those who desire to do the same: Speech is free. Lies, you pay for.”
The jurors’ decisions Thursday and Friday mark the first time Jones has been held financially liable over his Sandy Hook spewings.
“He lied to make his money. He lies to keep his money,” Ball told the court.
Jones’ lawyer Federico Reynal contended Friday that Jones never instructed anyone to harass Heslin and Lewis — the latter of whom Jones never mentioned by name in his broadcasts. Questioning the plaintiff’s estimate of Jones’ worth, he asked that jurors “return a verdict that is proportionate” to the damage done by Jones.
Reynal also asked the 12 jurors to send the message “You will not be rewarded” to Jones’ critics, who he blames for making the trial a heated issue.
Reynal also made mention of the “Clinton campaign,” which was objected to by the plaintiff’s team and sustained by Judge Maya Guerra Gamble. Ball accused the defense of presenting “alternative facts” to the jury.
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Mark Bankston, another attorney for Lewis and Heslin, had predicted Thursday that the $4.1 million payout was hardly the end of the matter.
“We aren’t done folks,” Bankston said Thursday. “We knew coming into this case it was necessary to shoot for the moon to get the jury to understand we were serious and passionate. After tomorrow, he’s going to owe a lot more.”
He was proven correct.
Jones’ legal team, which conceded their client was “absolutely reckless in his coverage” of the Sandy Hook massacre had asked the jury to award the plaintiffs $8 in compensatory damages, which would have amounted to a dollar for each count against him.
The 48-year-old conservative broadcaster is scheduled to return to court next month, where further damages are expected to be rewarded in connection to two other Sandy Hook lawsuits.
Further judgments could be complicated by the fact Jones’ parent company, Free Speech Systems, submitted a bankruptcy filing late last month.
With News Wire Services