austin, texas — A jury of Texas ordered Infowars radio host Alex Jones on Friday to pay $49.3 million in damages to the parents of a first-grade boy who died in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Jones falsely described the shooting as a farce orchestrated by the government in order to toughen US gun laws.
The amount is less than the $150 million requested by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose six-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, was one of 19 children and six educators killed in the deadliest classroom shooting in US history. .
It is the first time Jones has been fined for spreading lies about the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.
Jurors initially awarded Heslin and Lewis $4.1 million in damages., which Jones called a great victory. But in the final phase of the trial, which lasted two weeks, the same Austin jury added $45.2 million in punitive damages.
Punitive damages are intended to punish defendants for particularly egregious conduct, beyond the monetary compensation awarded to the people they harmed. High punitive damages are also seen as an opportunity for jurors to send a broader social message and a way to deter others from avoiding the same abhorrent behavior in the future.
The family’s lawyers had urged jurors to impose a financial penalty that would put Infowars out of business.
“You have the ability to stop this man from doing it again,” Wesley Ball, an attorney for the parents, told the jury.
It’s unclear how much money Jones or Infowars’ parent company, Free Speech Systems, have.
An economist hired by the plaintiffs testified that Jones and the company are worth up to $270 million.
But Jones testified that anything more than $2 million in damages “would sink us.” And Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy within the first week of the trial.
Jones still faces two other defamation lawsuits from Sandy Hook families in Texas and Connecticut.