A Texas jury on Aug. 4 ordered Alex Jones, founder and host of the Infowars radio show and webcast, to pay $4.1 million to the parents of a boy killed in the Sandy Hook mass shooting, marking the first time he has been held financially liable for spreading the false claim that the shooting was a hoax.
Sandy Hook refers to the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people—20 of whom were children between 6 and 7 years old—at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, separated parents of slain 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, had sought at least $150 million in compensatory damages from Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems LLC—Infowars’ parent company—for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The 12-person jury’s verdict came after a two-week trial in Austin, Texas, where Jones’s radio show and webcast Infowars are based. The $4.1 million amount is significantly less than what the parents had sought.
“We are very pleased with the verdict, and we are looking forward to the punitive damages phase that starts tomorrow,” Kyle Farrar, an attorney for the parents, told Reuters in an email on Aug. 4. Lawyers for Jones did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jones called the reduced award “a major victory” in a video posted on his website late on Aug. 4.
“I admitted I was wrong. I admitted it was a mistake. I admitted that I followed disinformation but not on purpose. I apologized to the families. And the jury understood that,” he said. “What I did to those families was wrong. But I didn’t do it on purpose.”
He added that the award was “more money than my company and I personally have, but we are going to work on trying to make restitution on that.”
Mark Bankston, an attorney for the parents, said that the $4.1 million will be only part of what Jones will have to pay.
“We aren’t done folks,” he said on Aug. 4. “We knew coming into this case it was necessary to shoot for the moon to get the jury to understand we were serious and passionate. After tomorrow, he’s going to owe a lot more.”
The jury will next consider the parents’ request for $75 million in punitive damages from Jones for spreading falsehoods about the mass shooting. The deliberations in the second phase of the damages trial are expected to start on Aug. 5.
Sandy Hook ‘100 Percent Real’: Jones
Jones had previously spread the false claim that the mainstream media and gun-control activists worked together to fabricate the Sandy Hook shooting, and that crisis actors were involved in staging the shooting.
During the trial, Jones conceded that the attack was “100 percent real” and that it was “crazy” of him to have spread the false claim. Jones was the only witness to testify in his defense, and he attended the trial sporadically while still appearing on his show.
Attorneys for the parents in an opening statement said that Jones led a “vile campaign of defamation” by spreading the false claim that Sandy Hook was a hoax. “Mr. Jones was continually churning out this idea that Sandy Hook was fake,” Bankston told jurors, referring to Jones as “patient zero” for the hoax theory.
The parents told the jury that an apology wouldn’t be enough, and asked the jurors to order Jones to compensate for the years of suffering they and other Sandy Hook families endured.
Heslin and Lewis testified that after their son died, they faced more trauma over the years, including gunshots fired at a home, threats online and via the phone—including death threats—and harassment on the street by strangers.
The parents said the threats and harassments were by people who believed in Jones’s false hoax theory, and that those people had falsely believed that the parents were lying about their son’s death.
A forensic psychiatrist testified that the parents suffer from “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” due to ongoing trauma, similar to what a soldier at war or a child abuse victim might experience.
A lawyer for Jones acknowledged during his opening statement that Infowars had spread false information. He said Jones lost millions of viewers after being banned in 2018 from major social media and streaming platforms—including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Spotify—for hate speech and abusive behavior over the Sandy Hook false claim.
“He regrets what he did, and he’s paying a price for it,” said Jones’s lead attorney, Federico Andino Reynal.
During his closing argument, Reynal said that while Jones and Infowars had reported “irresponsibly” on Sandy Hook, Jones was not responsible for the harassment the parents faced.
Jones said during his testimony that he had tried to correct his hoax claims, but “[the media] won’t let me take it back.”
Separately, in a surprising development, lawyers for the parents said on Aug. 3 that Jones’s lawyers had inadvertently sent them two years’ worth of texts and failed to request them back in time.
Judge Maya Guerra Gamble denied Jones’s motion for a mistrial. Jones’s lawyer argued that attorneys for the parents should have destroyed the texts immediately.
Now, the parents can use the records as they wish.
Bankston used the texts to undercut Jones’s testimony during cross-examination on Aug. 3. Bankston also said in court on Aug. 4 that the U.S. House Jan. 6 Committee has requested the records and that he intends to comply.
Jurors are set to hear more arguments and evidence from both sides about Jones and his company’s finances on Aug. 5. A finance expert is set to testify for the parents.
Jones’s media company, Free Speech Systems LLC, declared bankruptcy last week. During a broadcast on Aug. 1, Jones said that the filing will help the company stay on the air while it appeals.
Gamble admonished Jones on Aug. 2 for not telling the truth during his testimony when he said he was bankrupt and had complied with the parents’ request for information prior to the trial. “It seems absurd to instruct you again that you must tell the truth while you testify. Yet here I am,” she said.
Heslin and Lewis joined other Sandy Hook parents in urging a judge to block Free Speech Systems from sending Jones or his companies any money until they get to the bottom of their finances.
The parents allege that Jones took $62 million from the company while burdening it with $65 million in “fabricated” debt owed to PQPR Holdings, a company owned by Jones and his parents.
Jones was set to stand trial in a similar suit in Connecticut in September brought by the families of other Sandy Hook victims and an FBI agent who worked on the case. But the case is now on hold while the bankruptcy proceeds.
Jones also faces another trial in Austin, Texas.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.