AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas jury ordered Infowars radio host Alex Jones on Friday to pay $45.2 million in damages to the parents of a slain child. in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, in addition to the 4.1 million he has to pay for the suffering he put them through after claiming for years that the deadliest school shooting in US history was a hoax.
The total — $49.3 million — is less than the $150 million requested by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among 20 children and six teachers killed in the shooting. The trial marks the first time Jones has been financially sanctioned for spreading lies about the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.
Lewis said that when she took the stand and looked Jones in the face, she thought of her son, who is believed to have helped save lives by yelling “run!” when the killer paused in the firing.
“You stood up to assailant Adam Lanza and saved the lives of nine of his classmates,” Lewis said. “I hope I did that incredible value justice when I was able to confront Alex Jones, who is also a harasser. I hope that inspires other people to do the same.”
Jones had testified this week that any penalty over $2 million “would sink us.” His company Free Speech Systems, the parent of Infowars, filed for bankruptcy within the first week of the trial.
The goal of punitive damages is to punish defendants for especially egregious conduct, beyond the monetary compensation awarded to the individuals they harm. High punitive damages are also seen as an opportunity for jurors to send a broader message to society, and a way to discourage others from committing the same abhorrent behavior in the future.
Barry Covert, a Buffalo, New York, attorney who is an expert on the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees free speech rights, said Friday’s high punitive penalty, added to Thursday’s compensatory award, amounts to “an shocking loss for Jones.”
“With $50 million in total, the jury has sent a huge message that this behavior will not be tolerated,” Covert said. “Anyone who has a show like this and who knowingly tells lies … juries will not stand for it.”