DALLAS (AP) — The nearly $50 million libel verdict against Alex Jones for his years of lying about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre is far from a final judgment.
Jones’ lawyers plan to appeal and try to lower the price a Texas jury put on his false claim that the deadliest school shooting in the country – which killed 20 students and six teachers – was a hoax. The conspiracy theorist faces bankruptcy and other defamation lawsuits. And the conduct of Jones and his lawyers in the courtroom has exposed the Infowars host to further legal perils, including possible penalties, allegations of perjury and renewed scrutiny in the investigation into the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol.
Here’s a look at the fallout from the successful lawsuit against Jones by the parents of one of the child victims of the December 14, 2012, school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
WILL JONES PAY AND HOW MUCH?
A Travis County jury last week ordered Jones to pay Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis $4.1 million in compensatory damages for the pain he caused them by saying the shooting that killed their 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, had been staged to increase gun control. Jurors also awarded Jones $45.2 million in punitive damages, bringing the total fine to about a third of the $150 million sought by the couple.
This is the first time Jones has been held financially responsible for repeatedly claiming the Sandy Hook shooting was faked. Lewis said after the trial that Jones had been held responsible. His lawyers plan to appeal and seek to reduce damages.
Sandy Hook’s parents confront Alex Jones. (Source: CNN, POOL, NEWS 12 CONNECTICUT, FAMILY PHOTOS, CNN)
Legal experts say Jones is unlikely to pay the full amount.
In most civil cases, Texas law limits the amount defendants must pay in “exemplary” or punitive damages to twice the “economic damages” plus up to $750,000. But jurors aren’t told about that cap, and the jaw-dropping verdicts are often pirated by judges.
Russ Horton, an Austin lawyer, said it was ‘almost a guarantee’ that damages against Jones will be reduced to comply with the law, either by an appeals court or by the trial judge instance.
A Virginia judge did just that in Johnny Depp’s libel lawsuit against his ex-wife, Amber Heard. Under a cap similar to Texas law, the judge in July reduced the $10 million in compensatory damages a jury awarded Depp to $350,000.
What Jones can afford is also disputed.
He testified that any award over $2 million would “sink” us and Free Speech Systems – which is the Austin-based parent company of Infowars – filed for bankruptcy in the first week of the trial. .
Jones claimed the shooting was a hoax. (CNN, POOL, KEYE, AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN VIA AP, CHOOSE LOVE MOVEMENT, GETTY IMAGES, THE ALEX JONES SHOW)
But economist Bernard Pettingill said Jones and his company were worth up to $270 million. He said Jones withdrew $62 million from the company in 2021, when default judgments were entered in that case and two other Sandy Hook defamation suits.
Since the verdict, Jones has urged Infowars supporters to buy the nutritional supplements, survival gear and other products he sells, saying he needs the funds to continue the show and its legal battles.
“If we don’t become solvent and get enough money to get out of this bankruptcy, they’ll appoint a receiver and start selling the equipment,” he said Monday.
There would be lengthy legal wrangling before the Infowars studio could be sold for parts. But Jones has more immediate risks and could see his legal costs rise.
Jones appeared to be caught up in at least one lie while on the witness stand, when an attorney for the parents suing him revealed he had digital copies of texts and other content from Jones’ cellphone. Jones. The messages, including communications regarding Sandy Hook, were accidentally emailed to plaintiffs’ attorneys by one of Jones’ attorneys.
Jones sought to ignore the revelation during cross-examination, ridiculing opposing counsel and denying that he had lied. But legal experts say the episode could open Jones up to a possible perjury charge.
Criminal charges of perjury are rare and difficult to prove, but Jones’ notoriety may make him an attractive target, especially in the liberal city of Austin.
“It would be very hard to imagine a prosecutor prosecuting someone in a civil case for perjury,” said Benson Varghese, a lawyer in Fort Worth, Texas. “The odds are slightly higher for Jones, given the high-profile case.”
Aggravated perjury, the charge frequently brought in Texas for lies in the witness box, carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
A spokesperson for the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, which would be handling a potential criminal case against Jones, declined to comment.
Even if prosecutors never pursue a case, Jones could face further consequences from Judge Maya Guerra Gamble.
Before the trial, attorneys for the parents prosecuting Jones filed a motion asking the judge to discipline him for failing to produce evidence. Gamble is ready to take up this motion.
And in court, Gamble repeatedly urged Jones to tell the truth.
At one point, she sent the jury out of the room and berated him for telling the jurors that he had complied with pretrial evidence collection when he had not. And the judge reprimanded him again for testifying that he was bankrupt, which was not determined by a court and enraged lawyers opposing Jones.
“It’s not your show,” Gamble told Jones. “Your beliefs don’t make something true. You are under oath.
Judges have wide discretion to set penalties – including fines, jail time and other punishments – but these are rarely imposed.
Avi Moshenberg, an attorney for the parents, declined to say whether they would seek further sanctions, but said “there were definitely some disturbing things that happened during the trial.”
Jones’ attorney, Andino Reynal, did not respond to a request for comment.
JONES AND JAN. 6 INVESTIGATION
Jones’ lawyers accidentally handing over his text messages in the case also expose him to further scrutiny from the US House committee examining the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot that sought to overturn the victory of Joe Biden in the presidential election.
The committee, which has spent months exposing how former President Donald Trump relentlessly pushed his false allegations of a rigged election, subpoenaed Jones to testify. And the panel chairman accused him of helping organize a rally near the Capitol that preceded the insurrection.
Now lawmakers would have Jones’ texts.
An attorney for the parents suing Jones, Mark Bankston, gave the committee two years of messages from Jones, CNN reported Monday, citing an unnamed person familiar with the case. Bankston told The Associated Press he was “cooperating with the committee,” but did not comment further.
On his Tuesday show, Jones downplayed the messages. He showed a photo of his wife in a bathing suit he had sent to Roger Stone, a Trump confidant who was also subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee, and said the messages didn’t include anything after April 2020.
“It’s six months of limited texts,” Jones said. “It’s a fraction of my phone.”
Prior to the trial in Austin, Jones had already been found liable in a separate defamation lawsuit in Texas and another in Connecticut by relatives of some of the Sandy Hook victims.
The other case in Texas was filed by Leonard Pozner and Véronique De La Rosa, whose son Noah was killed in the shooting. The Connecticut case has the potential for a bigger payoff because it combines three lawsuits filed by 15 plaintiffs, a former FBI agent who responded to the school and relatives of nine Sandy Hook victims.
It will be up to a Connecticut jury to decide what damages, if any, Jones owes in this case, though the law may also limit what he should pay.
Lawsuits for damages were due to begin in both cases next month, but their progress has been complicated by Free Speech Systems filing for bankruptcy in July, a process that freezes ongoing litigation.
Horton, Austin’s attorney, said cases could potentially continue personally against Jones while Free Speech Systems is in bankruptcy court, and he warned that the Chapter 11 filing gives the bankruptcy court considerable power to examine Jones’s finances.
“Bankruptcy is no place to hide if you have something to hide,” Horton said.
Collins reported from Hartford, Connecticut, and Tarm reported from Chicago. Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
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