A Connecticut jury awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to 15 plaintiffs defamed by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones when the InfoWars host called the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting a hoax staged by actors following a script written by the government to build support for gun control.
With the plaintiffs sobbing in gallery, the clerk read out the verdict in which the jury decided compensatory damages for both slander and for emotional distress.
The compensatory damages total about a billion dollars, far exceeding the award in a prior case in Texas.
The jury also awarded attorneys fees and costs.
The plaintiffs, relatives of victims and an FBI agent who responded to the scene, testified that they were tormented by Jones’ followers who believed his lies about the massacre. The families said they were harassed and threatened in the decade since the shooting.
Jones testified he believed at the time the shooting might have been staged but he has since said he now believes it’s real. He declined to apologize to the families.
A judge last year found Jones and Infowars’ parent company, Free Speech Systems, liable in the defamation lawsuit, with plaintiffs that include an FBI agent who responded to the scene and eight families of victims that Jones called actors.
Prosecutors had asked that Jones pay $550 million to a group of Sandy Hook parents, who claim the InfoWars host spread lies about the mass shooting that killed 26 people, including 20 elementary school children.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Chris Mattei, asked the six jurors to “think about the scale of the defamation,” citing as one example Jones’ claim the families, “faked their 6- or 7-year-old’s death.”
Defense attorney Norm Pattis told jurors it was not their job to bankrupt Jones so he would stop broadcasting lies.
Pattis said he represents a “despised human being” but balked at the half-billion-dollar sum proposed by the plaintiffs’ attorney.
“It would take a person earning $100,000 a year hundreds of years to make $550 million,” Pattis said during his closing statement.
Jones faces a third, and final, trial that could result in another hefty damage award.