By Oliver Darcy | CNN
Right-wing talk show host Alex Jones will have to pay the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim a little more than $4 million in compensatory damages, a jury decided Thursday, capping a stunning and dramatic case that showcased for the public the real-world harm inflicted by viral conspiracy theories.
The award from the jury was far less than what the plaintiffs, Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, had asked for. At the start of the trial, attorneys for Lewis and Heslin asked the jury to award their clients $150 million in compensatory damages.
A separate, shorter trial during which punitive damages will be discussed is now expected. Punitive damages are awarded when the court finds the defendant’s behavior to be especially offensive.
Mark Bankston, an attorney for the parents, told CNN they are “thrilled” with the jury’s decision, noting the jury hasn’t “even decided punitive damages” yet.
The decision from the jury is a partial ending to a years-long process that began in 2018 when Lewis and Heslin sued Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, which is the parent of the right-wing media organization Infowars.
Jones baselessly said in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, in which 26 people were killed, that the incident was staged. Facing multiple lawsuits, Jones later acknowledged the shooting occurred. He testified in court this week that he now believed it to be “100% real.”
But Jones failed to comply with court orders during the discovery process of the lawsuit. His failure to do so led to Heslin and Lewis winning default judgments judgements against Jones.
Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled in October that Jones was legally responsible for inflicting emotional distress on Heslin and Lewis. Gamble also ruled that Jones was liable for defaming Heslin.
Jones claimed in his testimony that a jury award of just $2 million would destroy him financially.
But the accountant who is now in charge of overseeing Jones’ company Free Speech Systems, the parent of his conspiratorial media outlet Infowars, testified in bankruptcy court Wednesday that Jones withdrew about $62 million dollars from the company over 14 years, of which about $30 million was paid to the IRS.
And the accountant testified that Infowars had received about $9 million in cryptocurrency donations and that “they went directly to Mr. Jones.”
The decision to punish Jones in such terms also comes at a seismic moment in American society, where the lies and conspiracy theories have flourished in recent years.
The jury’s decision, while far lower than what the plaintiffs’ attorneys had asked for, sends a message to those who propel lies into the public conversation, whether for political power or financial gain, that there can be consequences for such behavior.
“Speech is free, but lies you have to pay for,” the Sandy Hook family attorneys argued to the jury during their opening statements and closing arguments.
During the trial, Heslin and Lewis offered emotional testimony, telling the jury that the lies pushed by Jones stained the legacy of their son Jesse and …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment