By JIM VERTUNO
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his company Free Speech Systems are worth up to $270 million, an economist testified Friday to a jury trying to determine if Jones should have to pay punitive damages to the family of a 6-year-old killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
The same jury ordered Jones to pay Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis $4.1 million in compensation for defamation. Jurors began considering additional punitive damages Friday as a separate issue. The parents want to punish Jones for a decade of pushing false hoax claims that they say led to a decade of trauma and abuse from the Infowars host’s followers.
Bernard Pettingill, who was hired by the plaintiffs to study Jones’ net worth, said records show that Jones withdrew $62 million for himself in 2021, when default judgments were issued in lawsuits against him.
“That number represents, in my opinion, a value of a net worth,” Pettingill said. “He’s got money put in a bank account somewhere.”
The money that flows into Jones’ companies eventually funnels its way to him, said Pettingill, who added that he has testified in approximately 1,500 cases during his career.
“He is a very successful man,” Pettingill said, calling Jones a “maverick” and “revolutionary” for finding ways to monetize his online messaging.
While the $4.1 million award Thursday was less than the $150 million the parents sought, it marked the first time Jones has been held financially liable for repeatedly claiming that the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history was a hoax perpetrated to try to bring about tighter gun restrictions.
Mark Bankston, an attorney for parents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse was among 20 children and six educators killed in the school attack in Newtown, Connecticut, insisted that the $4.1 million compensation award wasn’t a disappointment and warned that they would be trying to punish Jones in the next phase.
“We aren’t done yet,” Bankston said Thursday. “After tomorrow, he’s going to owe a whole lot more.”
Another of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Wesley Ball, asked jurors in closing Friday to award an additional $145.9 million, which would bring the total amount in damages to that $150 million target.
“You are asked to punish Alex Jones,” Ball said. “You are asked to deter Alex Jones from ever doing this awful thing again to another person or another family — to deter anyone who wants to step into his shoes.”
“Send the message to those who desire to do the same: Speech is free. Lies, you pay for,” he said.
But Jones’ lawyers said their client has already learned his lesson, and asked for lenience. The jury’s punishment should be less than $300,000, attorney Andino Reynal said.
“You’ve already sent a message. A message for the first time to a talk show host, to all talk show hosts, that their standard of care has to change,” Reynal said.
Jones still faces two other defamation lawsuits from Sandy Hook families in Texas and Connecticut that put his personal wealth and media empire in …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment