The jury’s award was far less than plaintiffs Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin had asked for. At the start of the trial, attorneys for Lewis and Heslin asked the jury to award their clients $150 million in damages.
A separate, shorter hearing is now expected where punitive damages will be discussed. Punitive damages are awarded if the court finds that the defendant’s conduct was particularly outrageous.
Mark Bankston, an attorney for the parents, told CNN that the plaintiffs are happy with the jury’s decision, noting that they received the money ahead of trial because of the sanctions the court struck Jones.
“Having already received $1.5 million in fines from Mr. Jones, the plaintiffs now owe $5.6 million to Alex Jones,” Bankston said.
“Neil and Scarlett are delighted with the decision and look forward to putting Mr. Jones’ money to good use,” Bankston added. “Mr. Jones, on the other hand, will not sleep easy tonight. With punitive damages still pending and several additional defamation lawsuits pending, it is clear that Mr. Jones’ time on the American stage is finally coming to an end.”
An attorney for Jones could not immediately be reached for comment.
The jury’s decision is a partial conclusion to a years-long process that began in 2018, suing Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, the parent of right-wing media organization Infowars.
Jones unsubstantiatedly claimed the incident was staged after the Sandy Hook shooting, which killed 26 people. Jones, who faces multiple charges, later admitted to the shooting. He testified in court this week that he now believes it was “100% real.”
But Jones failed to comply with court orders during the case’s discovery process. When he failed to do so, Heslin and Lewis won default judgments against Jones.
Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled in October that Jones was legally responsible for causing emotional distress to Heslin and Lewis. Gamble also ruled that Jones was liable for defamation of Heslin.
Jones said in his testimony that a jury award of just $2 million would destroy him financially.
But the accountant now overseeing Jones’ company, Free Speech Systems, the parent of his conspiracy media outlet InfoWars, testified in bankruptcy court Wednesday that Jones took back about $62 million from the company over 14 years, about $30 million of which was paid to the IRS.
And the accountant testified that Infowars received about $9 million in cryptocurrency donations, “which went directly to Mr. Jones.”
The decision to punish Jones in such terms comes at a seismic moment in American society, where lies and conspiracy theories have flourished in recent years.
While the jury’s decision fell far short of what plaintiffs’ attorneys had asked for, it sends a message to those who incite falsehoods in public discourse for political power or financial gain that such behavior can have consequences.
“Speech is free, but you have to pay for lies,” Sandy Hook family attorneys argued to the jury during their opening statements and closing arguments.
Fighting back tears at times, Heslin told the jury that Jones had “tarnished his son’s honor and legacy” through his conspiratorial media organization, InfoWars. Heslin said he “can’t even begin to describe the last nine and a half years of hell” he’s been through because of Jones, and detailed how he fears for his and his family’s safety.
In a remarkable moment in court, Lewis spoke directly to Jones, saying she wanted to talk to his face.
“Jesse is real,” Lewis told Jones. “I’m a real mom.”
Lewis told the jury he thought monetary damages were appropriate in the case because he didn’t believe Jones would ever stop his behavior.
“There is no real apology,” he said. “But occasionally, I liken it to being in a car accident, where you run over someone and cause massive bodily harm, and you look at the person on the ground and say, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m not responsible for any damage I caused. But I’m sorry.’ That’s how I see it.”
Lewis also reflected on what it meant for the trial to happen sometime.
“It seems pretty incredible to me that we have to do this,” Lewis told Jones. “We have to plead with you — not just beg you, but chastise you — that you stop lying … It’s surreal what’s going on here.”
The trial in Texas is one of three expected to take place in the next two months.
A different group of Sandy Hook families sued Jones in Connecticut. The families won a default judgment against Jones and a trial was scheduled to begin in September. But jury selection was suspended on the same day it began earlier this week and the trial could be delayed by the Free Speech Organizations’ bankruptcy filing.
Attorneys representing some Sandy Hook families have accused Jones of filtering free speech systems at the property in recent years, part of an effort to protect himself from potential judgments he could be ordered to pay.
One of the attorneys, Avi Moschenberg, told CNN on Tuesday that Free Speech Systems’ bankruptcy filing indicated that $62 million in assets were repossessed from the company in 2021 and 2022.
“If you look at the bankruptcy filing that led to the bankruptcy declaration, Alex Jones was the sole owner [of Free Speech Systems], $62 million in draws in 2021 and 2022,” Moschenberg told CNN. “Just straight draws. That is why the company has few assets.
— CNN’s Sonia Moghe contributed reporting.
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