Plaintiffs Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis were awarded both compensatory and punitive damages totaling nearly $50 million. Of the $49.3 million total, the $45.2 million in punitive damages may be reduced under Texas law.
The jury began deliberating around 12:30 pm CT Friday after Judge Maya Guerra Gamble reminded them that Jones had already been found liable for defamation and “willful infliction of emotional distress” in a default judgment against Lewis and Heslin.
In an emotional closing argument on Friday, Lewis and Heslin attorney Wesley Todd Ball told jurors: “We’re asking you to send a very, very simple message and that is to stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies. Please.”
Jones’ attorney, Andino Reynal, immediately addressed the issue of Texas law and the amount of punitive damages in court, and then raised it again after the trial while speaking outside of court.
“We think the verdict was too high. Texas law caps punitive damages at $750,000 per plaintiff, bringing today’s verdict to $1.5 million in penalties. Alex Jones will be on the air today, he will be on the air tomorrow, he will be on the air next week. He will continue to do his job and hold the power structure accountable. That’s our only testimony,” Reynal said after court.
Judge Gamble recognized Reynal’s appeal in court, but did not immediately rule on it.
“So we have laws in Texas where we claim to trust our jury and then we don’t trust our jury, and that’s true,” Gamble said at the time. “And I’m sure the verdict will properly reflect Texas law in that regard, so you don’t need to worry about that.”
CNN has reached out to an attorney for the plaintiffs for comment on Reynal’s argument.
During closing arguments, Ball urged the jury to “stop Alex Jones from ever committing that atrocity again” and “deter others who might want to follow in his footsteps.”
Reynal pleaded for a much lower figure, suggesting that the jury multiply Jones’ alleged hourly wage of $14,000 and the 18 hours that Jones spent talking about Sandy Hook at Infowars by a figure of around a quarter million dollars.
Punitive damages are a form of punishment for a suspect’s behavior. Jones, the head of underground media outlet Infowars, has repeatedly lied about the Sandy Hook massacre. He fueled conspiracy theories about the victims and their families and sparked several lawsuits for defamation. He has since admitted that the mass shooting took place.
Jones claimed in his testimony that a jury award of just $2 million would bankrupt him financially. But on Friday morning, jurors heard testimony about Jones’ net worth from an economist, Bernard Pettingill, Jr., who estimated Jones’ net worth at between $135 million and $270 million.
Pettingill, Jr., who examined several years of records for Free Speech Systems, the parent company of Jones and Infowars, said Jones used a number of shell companies to hide his money.
Jones used two large loans to appear broke when in fact he wasn’t, Pettingill Jr. testified.
“Alex Jones knows where the money is, he knows where that money has gone, and he knows that ultimately he will benefit from that money,” said Pettingill, Jr.
After a juror asked what the difference was between Jones’ money and his company’s money, Pettingill, Jr. said, “You can’t separate Alex Jones from the companies. He is the companies.”
Jones “moneyed his shtick,” he added, even suggesting that Jones could teach a college course on his techniques.
Jones’ fear-inducing rants on Infowars have been paired with ads for supplements, documentaries and other products Infowars sells for many years. Pettingill, Jr. said the money flowed in and identified nine different companies that Jones owns.
“He’s a very successful man, he’s spread some hate speech and some misinformation, but he’s made a lot of money and he’s turned that into money,” Pettingill Jr. said on the stand. “My opinion of him is that he didn’t ride a wave is, he created the wave.”
Jones testified earlier in the week about his alleged financial woes after social media giants including Facebook and Twitter banned his content from their platforms.
“I remember him saying that, but the records don’t reflect that,” Pettingill Jr. said.
During the closing arguments, Ball claimed that Jones had more money hidden elsewhere, arguing that $4.1 million was a drop in Jones’ proverbial bucket. “He probably made it back through donations,” Ball said.