AUSTIN (KXAN) — One day after a jury decided Infowars host Alex Jones should pay the family of a Sandy Hook victim millions of dollars, it sat down again to decide on other damages to order: more than $45 million.
The parents of a 6-year-old who died in the shooting on Dec.14, 2012 — Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis — sued Jones for defamation and inflicting mental anguish. Last year, the court found the conspiracy theorist and talk show host was liable in the case, over repeated claims that the shooting was fake.
For the past two weeks, jurors have heard testimony in an Austin courtroom, from Infowars employees, media experts, these parents and Jones himself.
On Thursday, the jury calculated the first of two sums of money they believe he owes: $4.1 million in compensatory damages, or how much the parents were owed for defamation and mental anguish.
On Friday, it considered the second sum: punitive damages, or how much he owes as punishment. It unanimously decided he owed a total of $45.2 million — $4.2 million to Heslin for the conduct related to two specific defamatory publications by Infowars in 2017 and $20.5 million each to Heslin and Lewis for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Mark Bankston, attorney for the family, said this verdict brings hope for the family and restores their son Jesse’s legacy.
“That maybe, just maybe, they’ve made the world a better place,” he said. “I’m really glad that Jesse’s legacy in this trial has made a positive impact on the world too.
“He stood up to the bully — Adam Lanza — and saved 9 of his classmates lives. I hope that I did that incredible courage justice when I was able to confront Alex Jones — who is also a bully. I hope that it inspires other people to do the same in their own lives,” Lewis said.
In interviews outside the courtroom, Jones called the trial a “kangaroo court” and a “show trial,” frustrated over the default judgment issued by the court last year. He said he felt his right to a fair trial, and First Amendment right to free speech, were being infringed upon.
Reynal asked the jury to consider the actual harm Jones’ own words caused the parents — telling the jury his client simply “ran with a story he shouldn’t have” and later apologized.
“He looks forward to continuing the fight for freedom of expression,” he told reporters after the verdict. “Alex Jones will be on the air today. He’ll be on here tomorrow. He’ll be on the air next week. He’s gonna keep doing his job holding the power structure accountable.”
Meanwhile, Lewis said she believed this verdict held Jones himself accountable.
“Love is a choice. What he is putting out there — lies, hatred, fear — that’s a choice, too,” she said. “I hope, going forward, he will choose love.”
‘We don’t know’
The plaintiffs had originally asked for $150 million in compensatory damages. Then, after the first verdict was delivered the attorneys asked the jury for $145.9 million in punitive damages.
“Your (Thursday) verdict doesn’t punish or deter thus far in any way — that is what this stage is for,” said plaintiffs attorney Wesley Ball in closing arguments. “To take the bullhorn away [from Jones] and to take the first steps toward taking that bullhorn away from all the others who have it — or all the others who might want it — all the others who believe they can profit off of fear and misinformation.”
It’s unclear when the plaintiffs will be able to collect on this verdict, however, or how much they will get when the time comes. Immediately following the verdict, Jones’ defense attorney Andino Reynal announced he would be appealing and would try to get the size of the verdict reduced. Under a Texas law that caps punitive damages, said he believed the maximum amount of money from this verdict would be $750,000 for each plaintiff, or $1.5 million.
“We think the verdict was too high,” he said.
“We don’t know,” Bankston said, disagreeing with Reynal’s calculation. He said there will be lots of discussion about how the cap applies in this case in the coming days.
In his estimation, with three causes of action in the case and two defendents — Jones and Free Speech Systems, LLC — this verdict could amount to around $4.5 million.
However, he told reporters outside the courtroom he doesn’t think that is how “it’s going to shake out.” He initially said they may have an argument for a larger verdict under the Texas constitution because of “presumed damages” in the original default judgment.
But most likely, he said, the answer would come from future bankruptcy proceedings. At the end of July, Free Speech Systems, LLC filed for bankruptcy protections.
“We are going to this bankruptcy court, and those claims are going to have to get valued and resolved in that bankruptcy estate,” he said, noting that there could be claims in other ongoing cases against Jones soon. “There is going to be a large set of plaintiffs who are going to be dividing up the corpse of Infowars in this bankruptcy estate, and over the course of that process, that could get very, very dangerous for Mr. Jones because there is going to be a new level of financial scrutiny,” he said.
Jones faces another defamation lawsuit in Connecticut, plus pretrial hearings in the same Austin court are scheduled for a third lawsuit in September.
On Friday, the jury heard — for the first time — testimony on Jones’ net worth from forensic economist Dr. Bernard Pettingill Jr., who estimated the combined net worth of Jones and Free Speech Systems, LLC to be somewhere between $135 million and $270 million. He also noted that statements show Jones was paid out $61.9 million from the company in 2021. According to Pettingill, that was after the default judgment in this case was filed.
Jones’ defense attorney, Andino Reynal, disputed Pettingill’s testimony and said “we didn’t get any evidence as to what Alex Jones actually has today.”
Throughout the trial, jurors have been able to ask their own questions. One asked Pettingill what the difference was between the net worth of an individual and a company that person owns.
“There’s really no difference,” he said, adding “You cannot separate Alex Jones from the company.”
Reporter Avery Travis is in court. Follow her coverage below:
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.