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Alex Jones ordered to pay $49.3M total over Sandy Hook lies

Mark Bankston, lawyer for Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, asks Alex Jones questions about text messages during trial at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Wednesday Aug. 3, 2022. Jones testified Wednesday that he now understands it was irrespons

AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas jury on Friday ordered Infowars’ Alex Jones to pay $49.3 million in total damages to the parents of a first-grader killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which the conspiracy theorist falsely called a hoax orchestrated by the government in order to tighten U.S. gun laws.

The amount 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. The trial is the first time Jones has been held financially liable for peddling lies about the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.

Jurors at first awarded Heslin and Lewis $4.1 million in compensatory damages, which Jones called a major victory. But in the final phase of the two-week trial, the same Austin jury came back and tacked on an additional $45.2 million in punitive damages.

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.

Attorneys for the family had urged jurors to hand down a financial punishment that would put Infowars out of business.

“You have the ability to stop this man from ever doing it again,” Wesley Ball, an attorney for the parents, told the jury. “Send the message to those who desire to do the same: Speech is free. Lies, you pay for.”

An economist hired by the plaintiffs testified 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.

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