Right-wing broadcaster Alex Jones must pay the parents of a 6-year-old boy murdered during the Sandy Hook massacre $45.2 million in punitive damages, in addition to the more than $4.1 million he already owes in compensation, the jury found on Friday.
Jones’s lawyer Andino Reynal signaled plans to reduce the size of the penalty under Texas law to less than $1 million.
Travis County Judge Maya Guerra Gamble appeared to indicate that argument would be potent.
“So we do have laws in Texas where we claim to trust our juries, and then we don’t trust our juries. That’s true,” the judge quipped. “And I’m sure that judgment will properly reflect the laws of the state of Texas in that regard. So don’t worry about that.”
Attorneys for bereaved parents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis pushed for a heavy penalty for calling the tragedy a “giant hoax” staged by crisis actors. Jones testified during the trial that he now recognizes the massacre was “100 percent real.”
“Stop Alex Jones,” said Wesley Ball, who represents the parents of murdered 6-year-old Jesse Lewis. “Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies, please.”
Referring to the phrase coined by former President Donald Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway, Ball referred to Jones as “Patient Zero of ‘alternative facts.'”
Since the 1990s, Jones built a niche with broadcasts stoking paranoia surrounding mass tragedies — and hawking disaster preparation merchandise to help listeners purportedly prepare for disasters. Jones has blamed the hidden hand of the federal government for the Oklahoma City bombing, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and multiple mass shootings. The conspiracy theories have a common theme, involving supposed false flag events for government actors to advance foreign or domestic aims. Jones also amplified the so-called Pizzagate conspiracy theory of a child sex ring in the (non-existent) basement of a popular D.C. restaurant.
The Texas litigation aimed to punish Jones for what the plaintiffs’ attorney called his “decade of deceit,” with the 10-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre coming in December.
Before trial, Jones lost a summary judgment ruling for failing to comply with discovery orders. The jury’s only decision was how much to award, divided into compensatory and punitive damages. Despite thanking the jury for their compensation award, Ball added that the amount did not represent two percent of Jones’s known assets.
Jones has separate trials coming up in Connecticut next month in September, in cases brought by other Sandy Hook families. The recent occurrences in the Texas trial raised questions about possible criminal exposure for Jones. Plaintiffs’ lawyer Mark Bankston revealed that “various” federal and law enforcement agencies want to see the contents of Jones’s phone data, which the broadcaster’s lawyer inadvertently disclosed.
Bankston also accused Jones of lying under oath on the witness stand, after confronting him with an email that Jones previously claimed did not exist.
Travis County Judge Maya Guerra Gamble also said flatly that Jones made false statements during his testimony.
Jones’s attorney Andino Reynal said he would challenge the size of the verdict, which he asserts has been capped under Texas law. The plaintiffs’ lawyers signaled they would fight any efforts to reduce the award, telling a Texas Monthly reporter that he believes the cap does not apply. Counsel also reportedly plan to challenge the constitutionality of the cap.
Mitchell Epner, a former federal prosecutor, media law expert and a partner at Rottenberg Lipman Rich PC, said the award “almost certainly” will be capped to twice the economic damages plus the non-economic damages, with a maximum of $750,000. The economic damages in this case were $110,000, which after doubling drives the punitive damages cap to $970,000, Epner said.
This is a developing story.
(Screenshot via Law&Crime Network)
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