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As Texas penalty trial concludes, Alex Jones has more legal troubles ahead

Alex Jones ordered to pay over $4 million
Texas jury orders Alex Jones to pay over $4 million in damages to family of Sandy Hook victim 02:25

A Texas jury ordered Alex Jones to pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages and $45.2 in punitive damages to the parents of a child killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

And his legal troubles are far from over.

Jones — a prominent conspiracy theorist and far-right broadcaster known primarily in connection with the fake news website Infowars and its namesake talk series — lost multiple defamation lawsuits last year brought by the families of Sandy Hook victims, who alleged that his false statements claiming the tragedy was a "giant hoax" caused them undue emotional distress, mainly by way of serious harassment from his followers.

The trial to determine damages in the first of those lawsuits took place in Austin, Texas, where Jones' media conglomerate and the parent company of Infowars, Free Speech Systems, is headquartered. The punitive damages ruling on Friday, Aug. 5, marked the conclusion a defamation suit that Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis originally filed against Jones and his corporation in 2018. 

Heslin and Lewis, the parents of a 6-year-old named Jesse who was among the 20 children and six adults fatally shot in the Sandy Hook massacre, had sought at least $150 million in compensatory damages. 

Economist Bernard Pettingill, who was hired by the plaintiffs to analyze Jones' net worth, testified that Jones and Free Speech Systems are worth up to $270 million, The Associated Press reported. He said records show that Jones withdrew $62 million for himself in 2021, when default judgments were issued in lawsuits against him.

"He's got money put in a bank account somewhere," Pettingill said, calling Jones a "maverick" and "revolutionary" for finding ways to monetize his online messaging.

Free Speech Systems, which is Infowars' parent company, filed for federal bankruptcy protection July 29, midway through the trial — the first of several damages trials that Jones will face. The other trials, which were set for the coming months but could be delayed because of the filing, pertain to separate defamation cases brought by the families of other victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. One, filed in Texas by Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, who lost their 6-year-old son Noah, seeks damages from Jones for his repeated claims that the massacre did not happen. 

Another suit, filed in Connecticut, involves almost a dozen different families whose loved ones were killed in the shooting. Those families similarly sued Jones for defamation, and alleged that he peddled falsehoods about the tragedy with intent "to increase his audience and his sales." 

They have also accused Jones of surreptitiously moving funds out of Free Speech Systems prior to the company's recent bankruptcy filing. Although Jones claimed to be bankrupt before jurors during the damages trial in Heslin and Lewis' case, he was reprimanded outright by the presiding Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, who said the bankruptcy status had yet to be determined.

Jones has already lost each suit brought by the families, and the damages trials taking place this year are only meant to determine the dollar amounts he is ordered to pay each plaintiff. 

Last September, District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble handed down rare default judgments that found him liable for defamation and emotional distress in the Texas cases, citing his history of "bad faith and callous disregard" for court procedures throughout the time the lawsuits were underway. Judge Barbara Bellis followed suit with a similar default judgment in the Connecticut case that November.

As the founder and public-facing head of InfoWars, Jones infamously uses his platform to fuel factually inaccurate beliefs about extreme national tragedies, like the 9/11 attacks and other mass shootings in addition to Sandy Hook. For years he published digital and video content claiming the Sandy Hook massacre was a government "hoax," and a "false flag" concocted by the "deep state" in an effort to increase gun control across the U.S. He suggested the shooting and subsequent media attention was "staged" and described grieving families as government "actors" who worked on behalf of whomever supposedly orchestrated the scheme.

Giving testimony in court, Heslin and Lewis said Jones' lies and the resulting emotional and physical threats from his followers made their lives "a living hell," and recalled instances where people who believed his false claims sent them threatening emails and shot at their home and car. In his own testimony to the family in court on Aug. 2, Jones admitted that he knew the Sandy Hook massacre was "100% real."

"Especially since I've met the parents. It's 100% real," he said, and replied in the affirmative when his attorney asked if he understood that it was "absolutely irresponsible" to push false claims about the shooting. "They (the media) won't let me take it back," Jones said.

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