A jury in Texas found Thursday that Infowars founder Alex Jones must pay the family of a 6-year-old boy killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., $4.1 million in compensatory damages for defamation after falsely claiming that the massacre was a hoax.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis were seeking $150 million from Jones and his media company Free Speech Systems for the near decade of harassment they've been exposed to as a result of Jones and Infowars spreading the conspiracy theory that the attack that killed their son and 19 other children and six educators on Dec. 14, 2012, was staged.
Lawyers for Jones argued that he should pay $8 — one dollar for each of the compensation charges the jury was considering.
Each parent was awarded $1.5 million for past mental anguish and $500,000 for future anguish as a result of Jones's defamatory claims. Heslin was awarded an additional $110,000 for past and future damage to his reputation after Infowars aired two reports in 2017 questioning a statement he made in an interview with Megyn Kelly that he held his dead son and saw the bullet wound to his head after the shooting.
The jury deliberated for a little more than seven hours inside Travis County District Court in Austin, where Infowars is based, before returning its verdict. Ten of the 12 jurors agreed on the verdict — the minimum number required for a decision.
Jones — who continued to host his daily Infowars show throughout the trial — was not in court when the verdict was returned.
Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ordered the jury to return Friday, when it will consider punitive damages in the highly watched case.
Gamble admonished Jones several times during the two-week trial for speaking out of turn and going off on tangents during his testimony.
"This is not your show," the judge told Jones more than once.
During cross-examination Wednesday, Jones was asked about an image broadcast by Infowars showing Gamble and a judge overseeing a separate case against him on fire.
Mark Bankston, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, asked Jones if he was taking the trial seriously.
"I think this is serious as cancer," Jones replied.
Jones, the only witness called by his defense team, sought to portray himself as a victim who had been "typecast" for claiming the shooting was staged — and said that he now believes the massacre actually happened.
"It's 100% real," Jones said Wednesday.
Later in his testimony, however, Jones added a baseless caveat to his concession.
"I think Sandy Hook happened. I think it was a terrible event," he said, adding: "I think it was a cover-up. The FBI knew it was going to happen."
Heslin and Lewis told the jury that such false claims made by Jones and his Infowars guests have made their lives a "living hell."
"Alex lit the flame that started the fire," Heslin said during his testimony Tuesday. "Other people brought some wood to add to it."
Both Heslin and Lewis said they have received death threats from people inspired by Jones since the massacre. Heslin said his home was shot at by someone who shouted Jones's name.
Their lawyer said Monday that the parents have gone into isolation with a round-the-clock security detail after an unspecified number of "encounters" while they've been in Texas for the trial.
A psychiatrist hired by the plaintiffs testified that both parents suffer from a complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder. They each sleep with weapons by their bed, and don’t turn on their air-conditioning out of fear they won't hear something dangerous nearby, the psychiatrist testified.
"I wake up at night with panic attacks," Heslin said. "I was in the hospital a few weeks ago with heart pain."
Lewis testified about emails she received from Wolfgang Halbig, a Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist and Infowars guest, asking for detailed answers to a list of 51 questions about son Jesse Lewis's death.
"You try to process the death of a child, and we've tried to do that," she said. "But you can't process this."
During her testimony, Lewis also addressed Jones directly.
"Jesse was real," Lewis said. "I am a real mom."
The trial was the first of three separate defamation cases against Jones stemming from his portrayal of the Sandy Hook massacre as a hoax involving "crisis actors" employed by the government in order to enact stricter gun control.
Jury selection began earlier this week in Connecticut in a separate trial to determine how much Jones must pay the families of eight of the victims and an FBI agent for his false claims. (The selection process was temporarily halted as Jones's attorneys asked that the trial be delayed after Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy protection.)
Jones is also facing a potential new legal fight with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
While he was on the witness stand Wednesday, Jones learned that his lawyers accidentally sent two years of text messages from his cellphone to Bankston — and then failed to note that the messages were protected under attorney-client privilege.
Bankston said Thursday that the committee has requested the text messages and related documents, and that he intends to turn them over unless he’s instructed not to do so.
Gamble said she would give Jones’s attorneys time to research whether they have legal argument to block the committee from obtaining his text messages.