Jury says Alex Jones must pay Sandy Hook families nearly $1 billion for fraud claims

Oct 12 (Reuters) – Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay at least $965 million in damages to several families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting who falsely attributed the tragedy to actors, a Connecticut jury said on Wednesday. .

The verdict, which came after three weeks of testimony in a state court in Waterbury, Connecticut, was more than the $49 million Jones was ordered to pay by a Texas jury in August in a similar case by two Sandy Hook parents.

The Connecticut ruling also applies to Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems LLC, the owner of Jones’ InfoWars website. FSS filed for bankruptcy in July.

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The plaintiffs in the Connecticut lawsuit include more than a dozen relatives of 20 children and six staff members who were shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. Jones has maintained for years that the assassination was part of a government conspiracy. Guns of the Americans.

The judges also ordered the plaintiffs to pay attorney fees, which will be determined in November.

During a live broadcast as the verdict was read, Jones vowed to appeal and said his company’s current bankruptcy would protect Infowars in the meantime.

“We are fighting Goliath,” he said.

Jones’ attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Christopher Matey, a lawyer for the families, said outside court that it was “a verdict against Alex Jones, his lies and their toxicity, and a verdict for the truth and our common humanity.”

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Outside court, Robbie Parker, one of the plaintiffs in the case, expressed gratitude for the jury’s verdict. “Everyone who took the stand told the truth,” Parker said. “Except for one. The one who professes to do just that. But when it comes to telling the truth in court, he just stands here and lies.”

Jones was held liable in a default judgment last year for failing to comply with court orders.

During closing arguments last week, Jones cashed in on years of lies about the shooting that boosted traffic to his InfoWars website and sales of its various products.

Infowars’ finances are not public, but the site generated $165 million in revenue between 2016 and 2018, according to trial testimony. An economist in the Texas case estimated Jones personally at $135 million to $270 million.

FSS’s bankruptcy would limit the total amount available to the Sandy Hook families, but they could receive other assets from Jones if a judge rules that his company willfully harmed them, says Brian Gabedek, an attorney for the plaintiffs who are not involved in the case.

“The underlying behavior is so bad that it can take you beyond the limits of bankruptcy,” Kabateck told Reuters.

Jones has not filed for bankruptcy personally, but Gabedek said the same principle would apply if he did.

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A painful testimony

The families endured a decade-long campaign of harassment and death threats by Jones’ supporters, Matey said.

“Each of these families (were) grieving and Alex Jones stepped on them,” Mattei told jurors.

Jones’ attorney countered during closing arguments that the plaintiffs had shown too little evidence of quantifiable losses. Attorney Norman Battis urged jurors to ignore political motives in the case.

“This is not a case about politics,” Battis said, “it’s about how much compensation to pay the plaintiffs.”

Douglas E. Mirrell, a lawyer and defamation expert not involved in the case, said the substantial verdict sent a clear message of “resistance” from the jury.

“His own denial of the falsehoods and lies he has promulgated over and over again over the years is now catching up with him,” Mirrell said of Jones.

The hearing was marked by weeks of harrowing testimony from families who filled the gallery each day, describing how Jones’ lies about Sandy Hook had added to their grief. The FBI agent who responded to the shooting was also a plaintiff in the case.

Jones, who admitted to the shooting, testified and briefly threw the trial into disarray as he lashed out at his “liberal” critics and refused to apologize to the family.

In August, another jury found that Jones and his company must pay $49.3 million to Sandy Hook parents in a similar case in Austin, Texas, where Jones’ InfoWars conspiracy theory website is headquartered.

Jones’ attorneys have said they hope to rescind most of the payments in the Texas case before they are approved by a judge and deemed excessive under state law.

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Connecticut does not place limits on damages, although Jones may appeal the verdict on other legal grounds.

Matey said the families will go to any court necessary to enforce the ruling, “however long it takes, because that’s what justice requires.”

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Jack Quinn in New York, Tom Halls in Wilmington, Del

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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