A Texas jury on Friday ordered Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim, a day after ordering him to pay $4.1 million in actual damages for saying the school shooting was a hoax.
The two awards total about $50 million, less than the $150 million that parents Neal Heslin and Scarlett Lewis sought for the InfoWars host’s assertion that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, Conn., was a fabrication. Their six-year-old, Jesse Lewis, was killed in the shooting.
“I’m asking you to take the bullhorn away from Alex Jones and all those who believe they can profit from fear and misinformation,” plaintiffs’ attorney Wesley Ball said during closing arguments Friday.
“I suggest you return a proportionate verdict,” Jones’ attorney Andino Raynal said in his closing, asking the judge to order just $270,000 in punitive damages. “You have already sent the message. For a first-time talk show host, the message to all talk show hosts is that their standard of care must change.
Friday’s unanimous verdict concludes a two-week trial in Travis County, Texas.
“This case could be a bellwether case for future settlement cases,” said Holly Davis of Kirker Davis LLP, a trial attorney in Austin who assisted the plaintiffs’ attorneys with the case. “Future lawsuits and litigants may look to the jury’s award in this case to help them determine the range of awards they may offer to plaintiffs.”
While Friday’s damages are punitive for Jones’ claims, Thursday’s damages are intended to compensate the parents for financial and non-economic damages such as emotional distress.
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In Texas, there are statutory limits on punitive damages, with the limit per defendant being twice the amount of economic damages, plus the amount of noneconomic damages found by a jury not to exceed $750,000. A trial judge could reduce punitive damages given those caps, and Jones’ attorneys said they would file a motion to reduce the punitive award immediately after the verdict.
“We do not believe the punitive damage caps as applied to our case are constitutional and will certainly litigate that issue if necessary,” Mark Bankston, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, told Bloomberg Law.
Jones and InfoWars’ parent company, Free Speech Systems LLC, were co-defendants in the case.
Jones swore this week that the holocaust was “100% true.” He admitted that it was irresponsible to declare the shooting a hoax.
The hearing was at times shocking when Bankston told Jones that his defense team had accidentally sent a transcript of previously requested text messages to plaintiffs’ attorneys.
“I know you lied to me,” Bankston told Jones, who said she didn’t have any Sandy Hook texts on her phone.
At an emergency hearing Thursday, Renal asked a judge for a protective order on the documents, including 2.3 gigabytes worth of material.
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During that hearing, Bankston on Jan. 6 asked the panel to turn over Jones’ text messages and the documents he disclosed unless Travis County 459th District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble sealed the record.
Gamble denied the motion and denied the motion for a mistrial.
Ball said during closing arguments Friday that the defamation case vindicates Jesse’s memory.
The court already found Jones liable for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress in a 2021 default judgment.
Farrar & Ball LLP represents the parents. Reynal Law Firm PC represents Jones.