A jury in Austin, Texas, put a price on the defamatory behavior of Infowars founder and host Alex Jones: more than $49 million in damages awarded to the parents of Jesse Lewis, 6, who was among the 20 first graders and six educators killed in the shootings in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The damages, delivered by the jury Friday, were less than the $150 million sought by parents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, who testified that the conspiracy theorist’s false claims that the school massacre was a hoax made their lives a “living hell” of death threats, online abuse and other trauma from Jones and his followers. Texas law could reduce the damages further.
Jones faces two additional defamation trials involving Sandy Hook families that could lead to additional damages awarded by juries.
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Jones’ attorneys could appeal the damages by arguing that evidence not meant for the case – two years’ worth of cellphone data – was presented to the jury. That argument probably wouldn’t convince a judge, John Browning, a trial lawyer and former Texas appellate justice, told Bloomberg Law.
“The fact that (Federico Andino Reynal, the lead attorney for Jones) filed this emergency motion after the testimony, it reeked of desperation,” Browning said.
This year, the Austin-based Jones and his companies, including Infowars and Free Speech Systems, face two other lawsuits – one filed in Texas by the family of Noah Pozner, 6, who was killed at Sandy Hook, and another in Connecticut filed by eight families of victims. The trial in Connecticut is scheduled to begin next month.
The cellphone data could catch up to Jones in multiple ways. Mark Bankston, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said the evidence suggests Jones may have committed perjury during the trial’s discovery period by being untruthful about his text messages.
Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida, agreed that prosecutors could file perjury charges against Jones. “His legal problems are not over,” he told CNN.
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Bankston said the House committee investigating the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, which deposed Jones in January 2022, requested the phone records, but he wasn’t sure the data covered the time period leading up to and after the incident. In a subpoena letter, Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chairman, charged that Jones helped organize a rally that preceded the riot and repeatedly promoted President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud.
Jones attempted to depict himself and his operation as hurting financially. In late July, Jones’ main company, Free Speech Systems, the parent company of Infowars, filed for bankruptcy months after three of Jones’ other companies, including InfoW, which was formerly known as InfoWars, also filed for bankruptcy. During this week’s trial, Jones testified that any penalty over $2 million would “sink us.”
Bernard Pettingill, an economist hired by the plaintiffs, testified that Jones and Free Speech Systems are worth up to $270 million and that records showed Jones withdrew $62 million for himself in 2021. “He’s got money put in a bank account somewhere,” Pettingill said.
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After the jury announced its decision, Scarlett Lewis said the jury held Jones accountable – and so did she.
Lewis recalled that when she took the stand and looked Jones in the eye, she thought of her son, who saved lives by yelling “run” when the killer paused in his rampage within Sandy Hook Elementary School. “I hope that I did that incredible courage justice when I was able to confront Alex Jones, who is also a bully,” she said. “I hope that inspires other people to do the same.”
Reynal, Jones’ lead attorney, told the judge he will appeal and ask for a reduction in the damages. After the hearing, he said he thinks the punitive amount could be reduced to $1.5 million, based on a Texas law capping punitive damages at $750,000 per plaintiff.
Bankston said he believes he can challenge any attempt to reduce the damages. “We do not believe punitive damage caps are constitutional as applied to our case and will certainly litigate that issue if necessary,” Bankston told Bloomberg Law.
Despite the cap, Bankston said damages will total at least $4.5 million, accounting for emotional distress and reputational damage, along with punitive damages. He plans to argue against lowering damages in bankruptcy court and predicted that the other defamation trials would lead to additional damages.
“What this is heading towards is there is going to be a large set of plaintiffs who are going to be dividing up the corpse of Infowars in the bankruptcy state,” he said outside the courtroom Friday in a video posted on Twitter by Avery Travis, a reporter with KXAN News, an NBC station in Austin.
“Over the course of that process, that can get very, very dangerous for Mr. Jones because there’s going to be a new level of financial scrutiny,” Bankston said.
cut him off when he held forth on conspiracies, ranging from the Sept. 11 terror attacks being staged to a fake effort of the United Nations on world depopulation.
“This,” the judge told him, “is not your show.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.
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