Alex Jones must pay $4.1m for Sandy Hook hoax claims

Amount could be compounded by punitive damages

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US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones will need to pay parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre at least $4.1 million for falsely claiming the shooting was a hoax, a Texas jury said on Thursday.

The verdict followed a two-week trial in Austin, Texas, where Jones's radio show and webcast Infowars are based.

The jurors will on Friday consider the parents’ request for as much as $75m in punitive damages from Jones for spreading falsehoods about the killing of 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.

Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, separated parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, gave evidence about how Jones’s followers had harassed them and sent them death threats for years in the false belief that the parents were lying about their son’s death.

During closing arguments on Wednesday, their lawyer, Kyle Farrar, urged jurors to end what he called their nightmare and hold Jones accountable for profiting off their son’s death.

Federico Reynal, a lawyer for Jones, acknowledged during his closing argument that the radio host and Infowars reported “irresponsibly” on Sandy Hook but said his client was not responsible for the harassment.

Jones previously claimed that the mainstream media and gun-control activists had conspired to fabricate the Sandy Hook tragedy and that the shooting was staged using crisis actors.

He later acknowledged that the shooting took place and sought to distance himself from previous falsehoods during the trial, telling jurors it was “crazy” of him to repeatedly make the claim that the shooting was a hoax.

The shooting was “100 per cent real”, he said.

In a surprising development, Mr Heslin and Ms Lewis's lawyers revealed on Wednesday that Jones’s lawyers had inadvertently sent them two years of his texts and failed to request them back in time.

Judge Maya Guerra Gamble on Thursday denied a motion for a mistrial by Jones's lawyer, who argued that the plaintiffs' representatives should have immediately destroyed the records. The parents may now use the records as they wish.

In the second phase of the damages trial, both sides will present arguments on Jones’s net worth. A finance expert is set to give evidence for the parents. Jones is expected to return to the stand.

Jones's company, Free Speech Systems LLC, declared bankruptcy last week.

Mr Heslin and Ms Lewis joined other Sandy Hook parents in urging a judge to block Free Speech System from sending Jones or his companies any money until they get to the bottom of their finances.

The parents claim that Jones took $62m from the company while burdening it with $65m 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, but that case is now on hold while the bankruptcy proceeds.

The Sandy Hook gunman, Adam Lanza, used a Remington Bushmaster rifle to carry out the massacre. It ended when Lanza killed himself with the approaching sound of police sirens.

Updated: September 20, 2022, 6:51 PM