Jones was not in court when the jury read the unanimous verdict.
The damages phase of the trial, which ended Friday, marks the first time Jones, an influential purveyor of far-right conspiracy theories, has faced financial consequences in court for the outlandish lies he told via his Infowars broadcast about the shooting. Since the early days following the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people, including 20 young children, Jones said on his program that “nobody died” at Sandy Hook and that the attack was a ruse “staged” by gun control advocates to produce anti-gun sentiment.
Filed by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, the damages award hints at what Jones may face in the coming months in his additional Sandy Hook defamation lawsuits in Texas and Connecticut.
It remains to be seen how much of the punitive damages the parents will ultimately receive, as Texas law limits such awards per child. is suing for twice the damages plus $750,000, according to Carl Tobias, a tort law expert at the University of Richmond School of Law.
That calculation means the plaintiffs could see less than a quarter of the total award set by the jury, and that amount could be further reduced if the compensatory damages are for non-economic reasons, such as emotional distress rather than lost wages, said Tobias. .
Punitive damages are meant to sting, Tobias said, so juries tend to award amounts commensurate with the defendant’s finances, despite many states conflictingly having caps on such awards.
“The theory is that the damage is supposed to be significant enough to deter the person who did this – and other members of the community,” he said.
Jurors heard more testimony Friday about Jones’ finances before beginning to consider what sum would both punish Jones for his lies and deter him from making them again.
In court Friday, Bernard Pettingill, Jr., a forensic economist and former economics professor at the Florida Institute of Technology, testified that he estimated the combined net worth of Jones and his business entities to be between $135 million and $270 million.
“You can’t separate Alex Jones from the companies. He is the companies,” Pettingill said.
The testimony stands in stark contrast to Jones’ public statements that he is financially broke; his defense team initially asked the jury to award the plaintiffs $1 for each claim after arguing that Jones lost millions of dollars and followers when he was started social media platforms such as YouTube and Spotify.
Free Speech Systems, the parent company of the Infowars website, filed for bankruptcy during the trial, although Pettingill and other witnesses said it was impossible to fully scrutinize Jones’ finances since he failed to provide documents to the court.
Jones’ refusal to comply with court orders regarding documents and other evidence resulted in District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County, Tex., issuing default judgments against Jones last September, making him responsible for all damages.
But in a dramatic moment in the courtroom on Wednesday, it was revealed that Jones’ legal team accidentally sent the contents of his cell phone to a lawyer representing the parents. The apparent blunder prompted plaintiff’s attorney Mark Bankston to accuse Jones of lying under oath when he testified that he had no text messages related to the Sandy Hook massacre.
During the jury’s deliberations, Jones’ attorneys requested a mistrial, demanding that Bankston delete the phone records they had provided, which the judge denied.
Jones’ lawyers have said the legal battle against him is an attack on First Amendment rights, while the parents’ legal team argued his rhetoric was defamatory and not protected.
Heslin and Lewis testified during the nearly two-week libel phase of the case that Jones’ relentlessly false claims that their son never died and that they were “crisis actors” created a “living hell” for them.
While on the stand Tuesday, Heslin said as he mourned his son, he also struggled with death threats and abuse from those who embraced Jones’ rhetoric.
“I can’t even describe the last nine and a half years, the living hell that I and others have had to endure because of the recklessness and negligence of Alex Jones,” Heslin told the jury.
In his closing arguments Friday, Bankston said jurors are tasked with punishing and deterring Jones with their verdict and implored them to use their vote to “stop Alex Jones.”
“In truth, you have the ability today to stop this man from ever doing this again: from continuing to tear our community apart for the great monetary gain he has received thus far,” Bankston said.
“Speech is free,” he added. “Lies you pay for.”
Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.