AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The jury in the Texas defamation trial against Infowars host Alex Jones decided Thursday to award the parents of a victim of the Sandy Hook school shooting $4.1 million in compensatory damages.
From the beginning of the trial last week, the parents asked for an award of $150 million while Jones’ defense attorney argued it should be just $8.
The verdict comes after years of awaiting trial. Last year, Jones was found liable by default judgment of defaming Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of Jesse Lewis, a 6-year-old who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
Heslin sued Jones in 2018 for defamation and emotional distress for the falsehoods the conspiracy theorist popularized through his online radio show, including that the shooting was a hoax perpetrated by the government to enact gun control legislation.
It took the jury less than a day to reach its verdict, which 10 of the 12 jurors signed onto.
The jury awarded both Heslin and Lewis $1.5 million for intentional infliction of emotional distress and $500,000 for the infliction of emotional distress in the future. Heslin was also awarded $50,000 for past injury to his reputation and past mental anguish. Ten thousand dollars was additionally awarded to Heslin for injury to his future reputation.
Outside of the Austin courthouse, Mark Bankston, an attorney representing the parents, told reporters that the verdict was a victory despite falling far below the $150 million he asked for.
Travis County District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble released the jury for the day but not before reminding them that they are not yet released from her orders not to discuss the case or look at the news. This is because the jury will be tasked to take up punitive damages against Jones and his company Free Speech Systems LLC. Starting Friday, the jury will hear from one witness, an economic expert, called by the plaintiffs to assess Jones and Free Speech System’s net worth.
Before the jury shared its verdict, Gamble heard an emergency motion from Jones’ attorney Andino Reynal to block the release of Jones’ cell phone data, which was revealed yesterday to be leaked to the parent's attorneys.
Bankson said on Wednesday that Jones’ counsel “messed up” and sent him the data. During his cross-examination of Jones, Bankston rebuffed Jones’ claims that he did not have text messages on his phone relating to Sandy Hook. The attorney then accused Jones of lying under oath about the messages and asked if he knew what the term perjury meant.
Jones has decried that there was no wrongdoing on his part and that Bankston’s reveal was a ploy to make him look bad.
Reynal said during a hearing on his motion to protect the data that Bankston indicated to him that the information shared with him through a file transfer system looked to be confidential.
“I responded to him that the information had been sent by error, please disregard the link,” said Reynal.
Bankston said that under the Texas Rules and Civil Procedures, Reynal had 10 days to “specifically identify the material or information produced and state the privilege asserted. I have not heard any privilege.”
Since no privilege was asserted, Bankston argued that the files in his possession are not protected. He also indicated that he has been contacted by several federal agencies requesting the files, including the Jan. 6 committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Jones has had close ties to former President Donald Trump through his advisers and addressed rioters after they breached the capitol grounds.
Judge Gamble gave Reynal the rest of Thursday to indicate specific parts of the data that are privileged.
Both Heslin and Lewis took the stand Tuesday and gave emotional testimony detailing what the lies spread by Jones had done to them.
“It has been a long time coming… I feel very good about being here today to face Alex Jones and hold him accountable for what he said and did to me,” said Heslin during his testimony.
Lewis directly addressed Jones, who was not in the courtroom during Heslin’s testimony, and told him that she is not an actor and her son was real.
“I do not think you understand the repercussions of going on air and lying, calling this a hoax, you do not understand that and I do not think you will understand unless there is some form of punishment to make this feel real,” said Lewis.
Jones has taken to his online show to call the trial “a show” and accuse the judge and plaintiff's attorney of being a part of a ploy to strip away his right to speech. On his show, Jones has used his legal troubles to say he is close to being taken off the air and ask followers to purchase goods from his store to fund the organization.Follow @@KirkReportsNews
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