The trial this week for damages that the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay to the parents of a child killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School has revealed interesting details about Mr. Jones and his Infowars media company, which he used to spread lies about the shooting.
The jury in Austin, Texas, awarded more than $4 million in compensatory damages on Thursday and was deliberating punitive damages on Friday.
The Sandy Hook School Massacre
Mr. Jones was found liable last year of defaming the victims’ families after he spread bogus theories that the shooting had been part of a government plot to confiscate Americans’ firearms and that the victims’ families had been complicit in the scheme. This week’s trial is the first of three that will determine how much Mr. Jones owes the families for the suffering he has caused.
Here are several key takeaways from the closely watched trial.
After Mr. Jones was ruled liable by default in the Sandy Hook cases, he began transferring $11,000 a day into a shell company he controls, Bernard Pettingill Jr., an economic consultant, told the jury on Friday.
Mr. Pettingill estimated that the net worth of Mr. Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of Infowars, was between $135 million to $270 million. At one point, Mr. Jones was paying himself an average of $6 million a year, Mr. Pettingill said.
A lawyer for Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis died in the 2012 attack, presented records on Wednesday showing that Infowars had made more than $800,000 a day at one point in 2018. Mr. Jones said the amount had stemmed from a particularly lucrative period during the Conservative Political Action Conference.
On Friday, a lawyer for Ms. Lewis and Mr. Heslin asked the jurors to award nearly $146 million in punitive damages, saying they had an opportunity to “stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies.” Mr. Jones’s lawyer asked for a $270,000 award, saying Mr. Jones had “apologized repeatedly and offered to have the parents on his show.”
Jurors learned on Wednesday that Mr. Jones’s lawyer had accidentally sent two years’ worth of text messages to the families’ lawyers. The material appeared to contradict claims that he had made under oath about his finances and messages he had exchanged about Sandy Hook. The trove of messages is now of interest to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which is scrutinizing Mr. Jones’s role in planning events leading up to the riot.
The trial included several days of emotional testimony, including 90 minutes on Tuesday when Ms. Lewis personally addressed Mr. Jones, asking him why he had knowingly spread lies about the death of her son. “Alex, I want you to hear this,” she said. “We’re more polarized than ever as a country. Some of that is because of you.”
Thursday’s decision was the first time Mr. Jones had been held financially liable for defaming the victims’ parents. Two other trials to establish damages for Sandy Hook parents from Mr. Jones have been scheduled for next month, though they may be delayed because his company filed for bankruptcy last week. Mr. Jones said in his bankruptcy filing that he had paid $15 million so far in legal costs for the Sandy Hook litigation.