Alex Jones ordered to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages in Sandy Hook defamation case

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A day after concluding that Infowars founder Alex Jones must pay the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School $4.1 million in compensatory damages for falsely claiming that the massacre was a hoax, a jury in Austin, Texas, on Friday ordered Jones to pay an additional $45.2 million in punitive damages.

In all, the jury ordered Jones to pay $49.3 million in damages — less than the $150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse was killed in the Dec. 14, 2012, attack in Newtown, Conn.

The punitive phase of the trial featured one witness — forensic economist Bernard Pettingill — who estimated the combined net worth of Jones and his media company Free Speech Systems to be between $135 million and $160 million. Jones claimed in court that he has a negative net worth of $20 million.

Pettingill said he based part of his valuation on Jones's "rabid" fanbase.

Alex Jones points as he testifies in court.
Alex Jones testifies at the Travis County Courthouse during his defamation trial in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday. (Briana Sanchez/Reuters)

"He is a very, very successful man," Pettingill said in his testimony. "He didn't ride a wave. He created it."

On Thursday, the same jury awarded Heslin and Lewis $4.1 million for defamation as a result of Jones and Infowars spreading the conspiracy theory that the attack that killed their son and 19 other children and six educators nearly a decade ago was staged.

Heslin and Lewis sought $150 million. Lawyers for Jones argued that he should pay $8 — one dollar for each of the compensation charges the jury was considering.

Ten of the 12 jurors agreed on the verdict — the minimum number required for a decision in the compensatory phase. In awarding punitive damages, the verdict must be unanimous.

Wesley Todd Ball, a lawyer for the parents, thanked the jury for helping to restore Jesse's "honor" and implored the panel to punish Jones for his defamatory claims.

"We ask that you send a very simple message," Ball said Friday. "And that is, stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies. Please.

"That man will sit here and spew his lies and misinformation as long as he keeps getting a check," he added. "He's not going to stop. They won't stop unless you stop them."

Ball asked that the jury award $145.9 million in punitive damages — which would bring the combined total to the $150 million figure that the parents were seeking.

F. Andino Reynal, Jones's lawyer, recommended a punitive judgment of $270,000.

Economic expert Bernard Pettingill testifies in court.
Forensic economist Bernard Pettingill testifies in court on Friday. (Briana Sanchez/Reuters)

Jones — who has continued to host his daily Infowars show throughout the trial — was not in court on Thursday or Friday.

Taking the witness stand in his own defense earlier this week, Jones sought to portray himself as a victim who had been "typecast" for claiming the shooting was staged — and said that he now believes the massacre actually happened.

"It's 100% real," Jones said Wednesday.

Later in his testimony, however, Jones added a baseless caveat to his concession.

"I think Sandy Hook happened. I think it was a terrible event," he said, adding: "I think it was a cover-up. The FBI knew it was going to happen."

Heslin and Lewis told the jury that such false claims made by Jones and his Infowars guests have made their lives a "living hell."

"Alex lit the flame that started the fire," Heslin said during his testimony Tuesday. "Other people brought some wood to add to it."

Judge Maya Guerra Gamble admonished Jones several times during the trial for speaking out of turn and going off on tangents during his testimony.

"This is not your show," Gamble said.

Alex Jones walks into the courtroom.
Jones walks into the courtroom on July 28. (Briana Sanchez/Reuters)

The trial was the first of three separate defamation cases against Jones stemming from his portrayal of the Sandy Hook massacre as a hoax.

Jury selection began earlier this week in Connecticut in a separate trial to determine how much Jones must pay the families of eight of the victims and an FBI agent for his false claims. (The selection process was temporarily halted as Jones's attorneys asked that the trial be delayed after Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy protection.)

Jones is also facing a potential new legal fight with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

While he was on the witness stand Wednesday, Jones learned that his lawyers accidentally sent two years of text messages from his cellphone to Mark Bankston, an attorney for the plaintiffs — and then failed to note that the messages were protected under attorney-client privilege.

Bankston said Thursday that the committee has requested the text messages and related documents, and that he intends to turn them over unless he's instructed not to do so.

On Friday, Gamble said she would not prevent Bankston from giving Jones's text messages to the committee. "I'm not standing between you and Congress. That is not my job. I'm not going to do that," she said.