Jury Determines Alex Jones Caused $4 Million in Damages to Two Sandy Hook Parents!
Right-wing talk show host Alex Jones will have to pay the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim a little more than $4 million in compensatory damages, a jury decided Thursday, capping a stunning and dramatic case that showcased for the public the real-world harm inflicted by viral conspiracy theories.
Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, who were suing, asked for a lot more money than the jury gave them. At the beginning of the trial, the lawyers for Lewis and Heslin asked the jury to give them $150 million in damages.
Now, we can expect a separate, shorter trial where punitive damages will be talked about. Punitive damages are given when the court thinks the behavior of the defendant was especially bad.
Mark Bankston, an attorney for the parents, told CNN that the plaintiffs are happy with the jury’s decision, noting that they had also received money prior to the trial due to sanctions the court had hit Jones with.
“Having already secured $1.5 million in fines from Mr. Jones, the plaintiffs are now due $5.6 million that Alex Jones will have to pay them,” Bankston said.
“Neil and Scarlett are thrilled with the result 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 to be decided and multiple 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.
“They thought they would shut us down,” Jones said. “But that jury understood the truth and resisted the propaganda.”
The jury’s decision is part of the end of a long process that started in 2018 when Lewis and Heslin sued Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, which is the parent company of Infowars.
Jones baselessly said in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, in which 26 people were killed, that the incident was staged. Facing multiple lawsuits, Jones later acknowledged the shooting occurred. He testified in court this week that he now believed it to be “100% real.”
But Jones didn’t do what the judge told him to do during the discovery phase of the lawsuit. Since he didn’t, Heslin and Lewis were able to get default judgments against Jones.
In October, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble said that Jones was legally responsible for making Heslin and Lewis feel bad. Gamble also said that Jones was responsible for hurting Heslin’s reputation.
Jones said in his testimony that a $2 million jury award would ruin his finances.
But Jones’ accountant, who is now in charge of his company Free Speech Systems, the parent of his conspiracy-based media outlet Infowars, testified in bankruptcy court on Wednesday that Jones took out about $62 million from the company over 14 years, of which about $30 million went to the IRS.
And the accountant testified that Infowars had received about $9 million in cryptocurrency donations and that “they went directly to Mr. Jones.”
The decision to punish Jones in such a harsh way also comes at a tumultuous time in American society, where lies and conspiracy theories have grown in popularity over the past few years.
Even though the jury’s decision was much less than what the plaintiffs’ lawyers had asked for, it sends a message to those who spread lies for political power or financial gain that there can be consequences for doing so.
“Speech is free, but lies you have to pay for,” the Sandy Hook family attorneys argued to the jury during their opening statements and closing arguments.
During the trial, Heslin and Lewis offered emotional testimony, telling the jury that the lies pushed by Jones stained the legacy of their son Jesse and tormented them for years.
Fighting back tears at times, Heslin told the jury that Jones, through his conspiratorial media organization Infowars, “tarnished the honor and legacy” of his son. Heslin said that he couldn’t “even begin to describe the last nine-and-a-half years of hell” he has endured because of Jones, and described in detail how he fears for the safety of himself and his family.
In a remarkable moment in court, Lewis spoke directly to Jones, saying she wanted to address him to his face.
“Jesse was real,” Lewis told Jones. “I’m a real mom.”
Lewis told the jury she feels monetary damages were appropriate in the case because she doesn’t believe Jones would otherwise ever stop his behavior.
“There has not been a sincere apology,” she said. “But if there was, ever, I liken it to being in a car accident and you run over someone and cause tremendous bodily damage and you look at that person lying on the ground and say, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m not accountable for any of the damage I just caused. But I’m sorry.’ That’s how I see it.”
Lewis also reflected on what it meant that the trial had to ever take place.
“It seems so incredible to me that we have to do this,” Lewis told Jones. “That we have to implore you — not just implore you, punish you — to get you to stop lying…It is surreal what is going on in here.”
The trial in Texas is one of three that are going to happen in the next few months.
In Connecticut, a different group of Sandy Hook families sued Jones. Jones was also found guilty by default by these families, and a trial was set to start in September. But jury selection was put on hold the same day it started this week, and the trial could be pushed back because Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy.
Attorneys for some Sandy Hook families have said that Jones has taken money out of Free Speech Systems over the past few years to protect himself from possible judgments that he may have to pay.
One of the attorneys, Avi Moshenberg, told CNN on Tuesday that the bankruptcy filing made by Free Speech Systems indicated that $62 million in assets had been withdrawn from the company in 2021 and 2022.
“If you look at the bankruptcy filing, right before Free Speech Systems went bankrupt, Alex Jones, the company’s sole owner, took $62 million in draws in 2021 and 2022,” Moshenberg told CNN. “Just draws straight up. Because of this, the company doesn’t have much.”