AUSTIN, Texas (TNZT) — Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his company Free Speech Systems are worth up to $270 million, an economist testified Friday before a jury trying to determine whether Jones should pay punitive damages to the family of a 6-year-old — old killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
The same jury ordered Jones to pay Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis $4.1 million in compensation for defamation. Jurors on Friday began to view additional punitive damages as a separate matter. The parents want to punish Jones for a decade of false hoax claims that they believe have led to a decade of trauma and abuse by the Infowars host’s followers.
Bernard Pettingill, who was hired by the plaintiffs to study Jones’ net worth, said records show Jones took $62 million for himself in 2021, when default judgments were issued in lawsuits against him.
“That number represents, in my opinion, a value of a fortune,” Pettingill said. “He has money in a bank account somewhere.”
The money that flows into Jones’ businesses eventually ends up with him, said Pettingill, who added that he testified on about 1,500 cases during his career.
“He’s a very successful man,” Pettingill said, calling Jones a “misfit” and “revolutionary” for finding ways to monetize his online posts.
Although Thursday’s $4.1 million prize was less than the $150 million the parents asked for, it marked the first time Jones has been held financially liable for repeatedly claiming the deadliest school shooting in history. the US was a hoax to try to enact stricter arms restrictions.
Mark Bankston, a lawyer for Heslin and Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse was one of 20 children and six educators killed in the school attack in Newtown, Connecticut, insisted the $4.1 million in damages should not be a disappointment. was and warned that they would try to punish Jones in the next phase.
“We’re not done yet,” Bankston said on Thursday. “After tomorrow, he owes a lot more.”
Another attorney for the plaintiffs, Wesley Ball, asked the jurors Friday to award an additional $145.9 million, bringing the total amount of damages to that goal of $150 million.
“You’re being asked to punish Alex Jones,” Ball said. “You’re being asked to stop Alex Jones from ever doing something so horrible to another person or family again — to scare anyone who wants to be in his shoes.”
“Send the message to those who want to do the same: Speech is free. Lies, you pay for that,” he said.
But Jones’ lawyers said their client had already learned his lesson and asked for leniency. The jury’s sentence should be less than $300,000, attorney Andino Reynal said.
“You’ve already sent a message. A first message to a talk show host, to all talk show hosts, that their standard of care needs to change,” Reynal said.
Jones is still facing two other defamation lawsuits from Sandy Hook families in Texas and Connecticut that endanger his personal wealth and media empire.
Jones — who was briefly in court on Friday but left before Pettingill’s testimony — told jurors earlier this week that any prize over $2 million would “sink us.” filed for federal bankruptcy protection.
Attorneys for the family suing Jones allege that Jones attempted to hide evidence of his true wealth and have sued him, alleging he hid money in several shell companies.
During his testimony, Jones was confronted with a memo from one of his business executives outlining the $800,000 gross income for one day from selling vitamin supplements and other products through his website, which would amount to nearly $300 million a year. Jones called it a record sales day.
Jones, who portrayed the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights, admitted at trial that the attack was “100% real” and that he had falsely lied about it. But Heslin and Lewis told the jurors that an apology would not be enough and called on them to make Jones pay for the years of suffering he inflicted on them and other Sandy Hook families.
The parents told jurors how they endured a decade of trauma, caused first by their son’s murder and what followed: gunshots in a house, online and telephone threats, and intimidation on the street by strangers. They said the threats and intimidation were all fueled by Jones and that his conspiracy theory was spreading to his followers through his website Infowars.
A forensic psychiatrist testified that the parents suffer from “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” caused by ongoing trauma, similar to what a soldier at war or a victim of child abuse can experience.
Throughout the trial, Jones was his typically bombastic self, talking about conspiracies on the witness stand, at impromptu press conferences, and on his show. His erratic behavior is unusual for courtroom standards, and the judge called him names and at one point told him, “This is not your show.”
The trial has also attracted attention outside of Austin.
Bankston told the court on Thursday that the U.S. House Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol uprising requested data from Jones’ phone that Jones’ lawyers had mistakenly turned over to plaintiffs. Bankston later said he intended to comply with the commission’s request.
Last month, the January 6 committee displayed graphic and violent text messages and played videos of right-wing figures, including Jones, and others who swore January 6 would be the day they would fight for Trump.
The commission first subpoenaed Jones in November, demanding a statement and documents regarding his efforts to spread misinformation about the 2020 election and a rally on the day of the attack.
Find TNZT’s full coverage of the Alex Jones trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/alex-jones