US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay the parents of a six-year-old boy killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre $45.2 million (AU$65.4 million) in punitive damages, a Texas jury ruled.
The fine exceeds the US$4.1 million (AU$5.9 million) compensation already awarded for falsely claiming the shooting was a hoax.
Neal Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the separated parents of murdered 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, testified that they were harassed and threatened with death by Jones’ followers for years, falsely believing they lied about their son’s death on December 14, 2012. , a shooting that killed 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
On Thursday, a 12-member jury reached an award for damages after a two-week defamation trial presided over by Judge Maya Guerra Gamble in state court in the Texas capital of Austin, home of Jones’ radio show and Infowars webcast.
The parents sought A$211.1m ($145.9m) in punitive damages and A$217m ($150m) in damages.
Compensatory damages are awarded to cover the suffering and loss of the plaintiff. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the defendant’s actions.
Jones, who was a prominent figure on the American right and a supporter of former President Donald Trump, called the Sandy Hook massacre a prank staged by the US government using crisis fighters to serve as a pretext to seize weapons from Americans. .
“We are asking you to send a very, very simple message, which is to stop Alex Jones. Stop monetizing misinformation and lies,” Wesley Todd Ball, the parents’ attorney, told jurors earlier Friday before they began their deliberations. penalties.
Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza used a Remington Bushmaster rifle to carry out the massacre. It ended when Lanza killed himself with an approaching sound.
Jones’ lawyer, Federico Andino Reynal, asked the jury to reach a verdict of A$388,470 ($270,000) based on the number of hours Infowars devoted to covering Sandy Hook.
Forensic economist Bernard Pettingill said Friday on behalf of Lewis’s parents that Jones “spread hate speech and misinformation” and “made a lot of money.”
The value of Jones and Infowars ranges from $135m (AU$195m) to $270m (AU$391m), he said.
Jones sought to distance himself from conspiracy theories during his testimony, apologizing to his parents and admitting that Sandy Hook was “100% real”.
Jones’ Free Speech Systems LLC filed for bankruptcy last week. Jones said during Monday’s broadcast that filing an application will help the company stay on the air while it appeals. The bankruptcy filing suspended a similar defamation lawsuit by Sandy Hook’s parents in Connecticut, where, like Texas, he’s already
During Wednesday’s closing debate, Kyle Farrar, the parents’ attorney, urged jurors to end what he called their nightmare and hold Jones accountable for profiting from their son’s death.
Mr Raynal acknowledged during his closing speech that Jones and Infowars were “irresponsibly” reporting Sandy Hook, but said his client was not responsible for the harassment.
The plaintiffs also accused Jones of a bad faith approach to the trial, citing broadcasts in which he said the trial was rigged against him and that the jury is full of people who “don’t know what planet they’re on.”