In the first of several trials seeking damages for his repeated public statements suggesting the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax, Alex Jones was ordered by a jury to pay $4.1 million to the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed in the shooting.
The award made to the parents on Thursday was for actual damages, or the harm directly suffered by the parents of the murdered child.
Plaintiffs' attorneys had requested $150 million. The jury will hear evidence on whether to award additional punitive damages for what the judge in the case previously described as Mr. Jones' "outrageous" conduct surrounding the shooting on Friday.
The total amount awarded against Mr. Jones in his hometown of Austin could jeopardize the popular broadcaster and his Infowars empire, which has filed for bankruptcy. Mr. Jones was visibly agitated during his testimony this week, interrupting one of the parents on the stand and claiming to be the victim of a larger conspiracy.
Mr. Jones and others at Infowars have repeatedly claimed on-air that the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 first-graders and six adults, was staged by actors as part of a larger plot to promote gun control, among other left-wing goals. He testified this week under oath that he believed the shooting was "100% real."
Mr. Jones made the unusual decision last year not to mount defenses in a slew of defamation lawsuits filed by victims' families, resulting in a string of default judgments in favor of plaintiffs. Damages in the other suits have yet to be determined.
The trial provided Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of murdered student Jesse Lewis, with their first opportunity to confront Mr. Jones in public. Throughout her testimony, Ms. Lewis addressed Mr. Jones directly.
"You spread lies, fear, falsehoods, deception, and untruths." "There is a truth, and I believe you are aware of it," Ms. Lewis testified. "It appears incredible that we have to beg you—punish you—to stop lying."
The damages award came at the end of a grueling week-and-a-half trial in which Mr. Jones and his lawyer sparred with the plaintiffs and were repeatedly chastised by the judge for violating court rules. Mr. Jones skipped court for several days during the trial, instead going on his talk radio show to criticize the proceedings and portray himself as the true victim. He suggested without evidence that the judge was associated with child abusers at one point.
Mr. Jones' attorney, Andino Reynal, made headlines of his own when he gave opposing counsel the middle finger in court. The plaintiff's attorney announced on Wednesday, during the final moments of Mr. Jones's cross examination, that Mr. Jones's legal team had accidentally shared cellphone records that the noted conspiracy theorist had sworn under oath did not exist, raising the specter of perjury.
Maya Guerra Gamble, the case's judge, has stated that after the verdict, she will consider imposing additional punishment on Mr. Jones and his attorney for their courtroom behavior.
The plaintiffs sought at least $150 million in damages, which they claimed amounted to $1 for each of the 75 million Americans who believe the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax, as well as $75 million for harm done to the victim's family, including death threats.
Mr. Jones' attorneys argued that his Sandy Hook programming was a small part of his overall commentary over the years and could not be directly linked to the harm done to Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis. Mr. Jones framed his years-long rants about the school shooting as a way to encourage listeners to be skeptical of official narratives.
"I never tried to hurt you on purpose," Mr. Jones testified, addressing the plaintiffs. "I never even mentioned your name in court until this case came up." I wasn't even sure who you were."
In his testimony, Mr. Jones stated that he would be unable to pay any significant damages award.
Infowars' parent company, Free Speech Systems LLC, declared bankruptcy last week, marking the platform's second attempt to enter chapter 11 in recent months. Lawyers for Sandy Hook families have accused Mr. Jones of diverting funds to shield the company from potential lawsuits, which Mr. Jones' lawyer denies.
According to court filings last week, Mr. Jones and his company have spent more than $15 million on the Sandy Hook lawsuits. According to documents filed with the bankruptcy court, Infowars' owners have taken more than $62 million out of the company since the beginning of 2021. An accountant hired by Infowars' parent testified in bankruptcy court on Wednesday that, despite the filings, those withdrawals were made over a 14-year period, the majority were made before the defamation suits were filed, and roughly half of the withdrawals were used to pay taxes.