A Texas jury awarded the parents of one of the victims of the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School more than $4 million in the damages lawsuit against “Infowars” host Alex Jones. The conspiracy theorist and far-right broadcaster had previously been found responsible forin a default judgment issued by District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble the was “a hoax” in repeated comments over the past decade.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse was one of 20 children and six adults killed in the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., sued Jones and his media company, Free Speech Systems, in 2018 .The couple originally sought at least $150 million in damages. Jurors first voted to determine how much of that Jones should be ordered to pay, coming in at over $4 million. They will reconsider to determine whether Heslin and Lewis should be awarded an additional punitive damages award and, if they are, what that figure would be.
Judge Guerra Gamble, who presided over the defamation lawsuits against Jones in Texas, issued rarelast fall found Jones and Infowars liable for defamation and emotional distress. The judge’s order cited the harassment that Heslin, Lewis and other families of Sandy Hook victims endured at the hands of Jones’ supporters as a direct result of his allegations about the shooting, in addition to the defendant’s “flagrant bad faith and callous disregard” for legal proceedings throughout the hearings.
The Sandy Hook tragedy remains one of the deadliest mass shootings in US history. Jones acknowledged in court Wednesday that he knows
But for years, Jones claimed the shooting was “staged,” a “false flag” devised with the intent of increasing gun control, with “crisis actors” allegedly posing as the victims’ grieving family members. He published these claims on his Infowars website, which features stories and videos promoting outlandish conspiracy theories and is considered a “fake news” machine. The site has published, and in several cases retracted, a number of patently false stories in addition to those related to the Sandy Hook massacre. Jones has faced multiple lawsuits — including some filed by other families of Sandy Hook victims — as well as allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment.
Court records show Jones earned more than $165 million between 2015 and 2018 selling items such as survival gear and nutritional supplements on Infowars.
Free Speech Systems, the Austin, Texas-based parent company of Infowars,last week. On Tuesday, Jones was scolded by the judge in court for telling the jury that he had followed evidence-gathering protocols before the trial and was bankrupt, when the latter had not yet been settled.
Jones lost several defamation cases by default last year. Lawsuits filed by families of Sandy Hook victims in Texas and Connecticut allege that Jones’ characterization of the shooting as a “gigantic hoax” led to years of subsequent abuse by his followers. A group of families involved in one lawsuit has also accused him of diverting funds from Free Speech Systems before the bankruptcy filing.
Both Heslin and Lewisin the Austin trial this week and testified how Jones’ attempts to spread lies about the mass shooting made their lives “a living hell.” The parents said those who believed the conspiracy theorist and his claims about Sandy Hook continued to verbally and physically harass and threaten them. They remembered people shooting at their home and car and sending them threatening emails.
“I cannot even describe the past 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 said.
“It’s fear for your life,” Lewis said. “You don’t know what they were going to do.”
Jones appeared in court Tuesday, allowing the plaintiffs to address him in person.
“I wanted to tell you to your face… I’m a mother, first and foremost, and I know you’re a father. And my son existed,” Lewis said, referring to Jones’ comments on Infowars that suggested that she was an actor who fronts a kind of state arrangement. As Lewis noted, Jones appeared to continue promoting the idea on his speaking engagements as late as the morning before closing arguments.
“You’re still on your show today trying to say that, implying that I’m an actress, that I’m deep state. You have that this week. And I don’t understand,” Lewis told Jones. “Truth – truth is so important to our world. Truth is what we base our reality on, and we have to agree on that to have a civil society. Sandy Hook is a hard truth.”
“Jesse was real. I’m a real mom,” she said. “… I know you know, and that’s the problem.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting.