A jury ordering Infowars host Alex Jones to pay more than $45 million in punitive damages to the family of a victim of a 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting will “stop others from spreading “hate,” said a top legal analyst.
Jones was ordered to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to Sandy Hook parents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis at the conclusion of his defamation lawsuit in Austin, Texas on Friday. The jury awarded $4.1 million in damages on Thursday. The far-right conspiracy theorist also owes a further $1.5 million in fines, netting him more than $50 million in total for falsely claiming that the deadliest primary school shooting in the country was staged by ‘crisis actors’ .
Jones could soon be sentenced to pay even more due to multiple additional defamation lawsuits related to the Sandy Hook conspiracy theory. Jones has since dismissed his claims, admitting that the shooting was “100 percent real” in court this week. He also argued that any damages over $2 million would “sink” Infowars, although family lawyers presented evidence in court suggesting he was making up to $800,000 a day.
CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson, a former New York state prosecutor and current criminal defense attorney, said Jones, being sentenced this week to pay the massive financial fine, could serve as an effective warning to other influential figures who might consider spreading similar harmful falsehoods.
“If you have these conspiracy theories out there – that it’s fake, it’s a hoax, the parents are actors, etc…I couldn’t even imagine, none of us could, how it affects a family emotionally, Jackson said on a CNN broadcast on Friday. “And you have [Jones] out there spewing hate.”
Jackson said he expected the juries in Jones’ upcoming trials to award similar damages, to enforce “responsibility” for Jones and “send a message” about spreading baseless conspiracies.
“Accountability will look pretty much the same as it does here, with a jury coming back for compensatory damages — which are designed to compensate people for cash losses — and then punitive damages, with the design to punish,” Jackson said. “To send a message that this just isn’t something you should be doing.”
“And it will surely slow down [Jones] down,” he added. “And not only that, [it] will deter others who might spew such hatred, and such negativity, and such falsehoods upon anyone.”
Jones attorney F. Andino Reynal asked the Texas jury to award the family only $8 in damages, or $1 for each compensation. On Friday, Reynal urged the jury to award the family less than $300,000 in punitive damages, arguing that they had “already sent a message” to Jones and “all talk show hosts.”
The attorney representing Heslin and Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre, said on Thursday the family was already “excited” with the compensatory damages they had been awarded, despite originally being asked to pay $150. million had asked.
“Neil and Scarlett are thrilled with the outcome and look forward to putting Mr Jones’ money to good use,” attorney Mark Bankston said in a statement obtained by News week. “Mr. Jones, on the other hand, will not sleep easy tonight. With the damages still to be decided and several defamation lawsuits pending, it is clear that Mr. Jones’ time on the American stage is finally coming to an end.”
News week has contacted Reynal and Bankston for comment on the punitive damages.