An Austin jury decided Thursday that the parents of Sandy Hook victim Jesse Lewis should be awarded $4.1 million in damages — well short of the $150 million sought by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
The financial fallout against Jones and his flagship company, Free Speech Systems, may not be over.
In the next phase of the trial, which begins Friday morning, jurors will be asked to award punitive damages after hearing testimony from the parents’ economist about the net worth of Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems.
After seven days of testimony and hearing a range of witnesses, jurors began deliberating Wednesday afternoon and announced their verdict Thursday at 4:15 p.m.
Neil Hesslin and Scarlett Lewis asked jurors for $150 million in actual damages, Jones’ portrayal of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting as a hoax intended to justify the government’s crackdown on guns — and the parents as liars or collaborators — inspired. Jones suffered harassment and death threats from followers and could not recover from the tragedy.
Jones’ attorney, Andino Reynal, asked jurors to award Jesse’s parents a total of $8 — $1 for each of the eight damages Jones and his flagship company, Free Speech Systems, caused.
Further:‘My son was there.’ The mother of the Sandy Hook shooting victim speaks directly to Alex Jones
Ten of the 12 jurors agreed with the verdict ∸ the minimum number required for a verdict. Four alternatives, two more than usual, were waived Thursday because of the pandemic and the length of the two-week trial.
Before hearing closing arguments Thursday, jurors were told that Jones and Free Speech Systems defamed Heslin in two 2017 InfoWars statements that questioned her claims that she held her dead son and saw a bullet wound to his head after the shooting. Stop Jones’ campaign, “Run!” Heslin testified that he made the statement in the NBC interview hoping to preserve the legacy of his son, who died a hero by yelling. When the gunman paused. Nine students fled; Jesse didn’t.
Further:Alex Jones says the trial is a ‘kangaroo court’
Jurors were asked to determine the amount of money to compensate Heslin for past and future damage to his reputation and past and future emotional distress caused by the defamatory statements. $50,000 for past damage and $10,000 for future damage to his reputation and $50,000 for past anguish.
Jurors were also told that Jones and his company intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Heslin and Lewis from 2012 to 2018 by repeatedly portraying the Sandy Hook shooting as a hoax when they filed suit. Each parent was awarded $1.5 million for past emotional distress and $500,000 for future emotional distress.
According to the jury charge, intentional infliction of emotional distress occurs when a defendant acts in a reckless, extreme and outrageous manner, “beyond all bounds of decency that is cruel and utterly intolerable in civilized society.”
Mental anguish was defined as “emotional pain, anguish, and suffering.”
In his closing arguments, parent attorney Kyle Farrar recalled being asked during a jury trial whether he could award $100 million or more in damages. Those who could not were weeded out during the selection process, he said.
“This is your chance to hold Alex Jones accountable for the harm he has done,” Farrar said.
Reynall said the parents, their expert witnesses and their attorneys failed to prove they were actually directly and indirectly affected by Jones’ words.
Once jurors reach their verdicts, they are asked to award punitive damages, which are considered punitive. First, jurors will ask the parents’ economist about the net worth of Jones and his company. Jones will testify at that point, Reynall said.
Speaking to reporters outside court Thursday evening, Jones was asked if he accepted responsibility for causing pain to Jesse’s family.
“I didn’t kill their son,” Jones said. “Of course it may have caused them some pain to question this great public thing that happened, but it was not intentional. And their pain is indistinguishable from that of their son questioning me, and the thought that I was the first to think that all these contradictions were not true.”
According to an InfoWars video played for jurors, on the day of the shooting, Jones questioned whether the attack was a “false flag” operation, saying it bore the hallmarks of a staged operation. In later years, he called the attack staged, completely manufactured and “fake like a three-dollar bill.”