Alex Jones trial verdict: Jury awards $4.1 million in Sandy Hook case – Austin American-Statesman

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay the parents of Sandy Hook victim Jesse Lewis damage awards totaling $4.1 million, an Austin jury determined Thursday — far below the $150 million requested.

The financial hit against Jones and his main company, Free Speech Systems, may not be over.

In the next phase of the trial to begin Friday morning, jurors will be asked to issue punitive damages that are intended as punishment after hearing testimony from the parents’ economic expert on the net worth of Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems.

After hearing seven days of evidence and a range of witnesses, jurors began deliberating Wednesday afternoon and announced their verdict around 4:15 p.m. Thursday.

Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis had asked jurors for $150 million in compensation for actual damages, saying Jones’ portrayal of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting as a hoax meant to justify a government crackdown on guns — and the parents as liars or collaborators — inspired harassment and death threats from Jones followers and made it impossible to heal from the tragedy.

Jones’ lawyer, Andino Reynal, asked jurors to award a total of $8 — $1 for each of the eight harms the court has already found Jones and his main company, Free Speech Systems, to have inflicted on Jesse’s parents.

Alex Jones attempts to answer questions about his emails asked by Mark Bankston, lawyer for Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, during trial at the Travis County Courthouse Wednesday Aug. 3, 2022. Jones has been found to have defamed the parents of a Sandy Hook student for calling the attack a hoax.

More:‘My son existed.’ Mother of Sandy Hook shooting victim speaks directly to Alex Jones

Ten of the 12 jurors agreed on the verdict ∸ the minimum number required for a decision. The four alternates, two more than typical due to the pandemic and the length of the two-week trial, were dismissed Thursday.

Before hearing closing arguments Thursday, jurors were informed that Jones and Free Speech Systems defamed Heslin in two 2017 InfoWars reports that questioned his claim that he held his dead son and saw the bullet wound to his head after the shooting. Heslin testified that he made the statement in an NBC interview in hopes of stopping Jones’ campaign and protect the legacy of his son, who died a hero by yelling “Run!” when the gunman paused. Nine students fled; Jesse did not.

More:Alex Jones says trial is a ‘kangaroo court’

Jurors also were asked to determine the amount of money that would fairly compensate Heslin for past and future damage to his reputation and past and future mental anguish caused by the defamatory reports. They awarded $50,000 for past damage and $10,000 for future damage to his reputation, and $50,000 for past anguish.

Jurors also were told that Jones and his company inflicted intentional emotional distress on Heslin and Lewis by repeatedly portraying the Sandy Hook shooting as a hoax from 2012 to 2018, when they filed suit. Each parent was awarded $1.5 million for past mental anguish and $500,000 for future anguish.

According to the jury charge, the intentional infliction of emotional distress occurs when a defendant acts recklessly, with extreme and outrageous conduct, “beyond all possible bounds of decency” that is “regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.”

Mental anguish was defined as “emotional pain, torment and suffering.”

Kyle Farrar, lawyers representing Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, gives closing arguments Wednesday Aug. 3, 2022, at the Travis County Courthouse. Heslin and Lewis are seeking two awards of $150 million from Austin-based conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Jones has been found to have defamed the parents of a Sandy Hook student for calling the attack a hoax.

In his closing arguments, parents lawyer Kyle Farrar reminded jurors that they were asked during jury selection whether they could approve a damages award of $100 million or more. Those who could not were weeded out during the selection process, he said.

“This is your opportunity to hold Alex Jones accountable for the harm he did,” Farrar said.

Reynal said the parents, their expert witnesses and their lawyers failed to prove that they were actually and directly harmed by Jones’ words.

Once jurors make their decisions, they will be asked to award punitive damages that are intended as punishment. First, jurors will hear from the parents’ economic expert on the net worth of Jones and his company. Jones also will testify at that phase, Reynal said.

Andino Reynal, Alex Jones' lawyer, gives closing arguments Wednesday Aug. 3, 2022, at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin. Jones has been found to have defamed the parents of a Sandy Hook student for calling the attack a hoax.

Jones, speaking to reporters outside the courthouse Thursday evening, was asked if he accepted responsibility for causing pain to Jesse’s family.

“I did not kill their son,” Jones said. “And certainly questioning this big public thing that happened probably did cause them some pain, but it wasn’t intentional. And you can’t differentiate their pain from their son being killed with me questioning things, and the idea that I’m the progenitor that first thought all these anomalies up is simply not true.”

According to InfoWars video played for jurors, on the day of the shooting, Jones questioned whether the attack was a “false flag” operation, saying it had the earmarks of a staged operation. In later years, he called the attack staged, completely made up and “phony as a three-dollar bill.”

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