Jury orders Alex Jones to pay nearly $1 billion in Sandy Hook defamation trial
A Connecticut jury on Wednesday ordered far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his company to pay the families of eight victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting $965 million in damages for falsely claiming the massacre was a hoax.
Why it matters: The at least $965 million award comes on top of the $49.3 million in damages a separate Texas jury in August ordered Jones to pay to the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed in the school shooting.
- The jury began deliberating last Thursday after three weeks of trial in Waterbury, Connecticut, roughly 20 miles from where a gunman used an AR-15 style rifle to kill 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School near Newtown in 2012.
- An FBI agent who first responded to the shooting is also a plaintiff in the defamation lawsuit.
- The plaintiffs' attorney had asked the jury to order Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, to pay more than $500 million in damages to the families and FBI agent.
- Jones was not in the courtroom for the reading of the verdict.
What they're saying: "Today, a jury representing our community rendered a historic verdict, a verdict against Alex Jones' lies and their poisonous spread, and a verdict for truth and our common humanity," Chris Mattei, the families' lead attorney said outside the courthouse.
- "For over a month in this courthouse, this jury bore witness Alex Jones' 10-year attack on the families standing behind me. An attack that made him very rich; and attack that exploited the fears and resentments of his audience; and attack that targeted these families with the lie that they were frauds, that they faked the deaths of their loved ones," Mattei added.
- Robbie Parker, whose 6-year-old daughter Emilie was killed in the shooting, said after the verdict: "I couldn't be more proud to stand here with all of these people."
- "Our lawyers helped give me the strength to finally find my voice and to fight and to stand up to what had been happening to me for so long," Parker said.
- He challenged Jones' followers to examine what the conspiracy theorist has given versus taken from them.
The other side: Jones' attorney, Norm Pattis, said outside the courthouse on Wednesday: "We very, very, very much look forward to an appeal."
- “We disagree with the basis of the default, we disagree with the court’s evidentiary rulings. In more than 200 trials in the course of my career I have never seen a trial like this,” Pattis added. "Today is a very, very dark day for freedom of speech."
The big picture: Jones, primarily through his website and radio show Infowars, for years falsely claimed the shooting was a "false flag" operation planned by the government using "crisis actors" to undermine gun rights.
- He admitted during the Texas trial in August that he believes it was "100% real." That trial marked the first time he had been held financially liable for spreading conspiracy theories about the mass shooting.
- Free Speech Systems, which Jones owns, is the parent company of Infowars.
Yes, but: Free Speech Systems declared bankruptcy in August for a second time this year in a bid to limit the cost of litigation damages.
- The families involved in the Connecticut and Texas lawsuits asked a federal bankruptcy judge to order Jones to relinquish control of Free Speech Systems, accusing him of sending millions of dollars to himself while still claiming bankruptcy.
- The bankruptcy judge last month dismissed Jones' attorney and chief restructuring officer and ordered new personnel to oversee the Free Speech Systems bankruptcy case because of a "lack of candor" from the company, particularly about Jones' personal spending, according to the New York Times.
What's next: The jury's verdict represents compensatory damages; Jones could be ordered to pay punitive damages as well.
- He is slated for another trial in a third defamation case brought by the parents of a boy who died in the shooting. The trial, which will take place in Texas, is tentatively scheduled for later this year, though no date has been set, per the Times.
Go deeper: The ongoing legal troubles of Alex Jones