A Texas judge has ordered that far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars infamy pay the full $49 million in damages previously agreed upon by jurors in a case dealing with some of the fallout of lies Jones helped spread about the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
The conspiracy theory Jones helped promote was that the shooting didn’t actually happen as reported. Instead, the always delusional idea was that the incident was a so-called false flag, designed to boost a push for gun control. In the wake of these lies, family members of victims of the very real shooting have faced incessant harassment reaching objectively shocking levels. During a Connecticut trial also dealing with the lies, a parent of a victim spoke of a threat to dig up his son’s grave. The Texas and Connecticut trials — along with a third trial that is scheduled to begin in Texas early next year — have been dealing only with the question of the level of financial penalties to impose on Jones because he was already found liable in the relevant proceedings underlying each case due to failing to sufficiently comply with the demands of the discovery period, in which he was obliged to provide further information.
In the earlier Texas case, the damages settled on by the jury were potentially severely limited by state rules demanding punitive damages reach no more than twice the level of economic damages in addition to $750,000 per plaintiff. Economic damages in the case were $4 million — with punitive damages reaching $45 million per The New York Times, surpassing the relevant limits. There have, however, apparently already been questions about the legal legitimacy of the limits, and Judge Maya Guerra Gamble — who also handled earlier proceedings in the case during which she (among other steps) rebuked Jones for claiming on the stand to be bankrupt and that he complied with demands made of him in the discovery process — decided to break with those standards.
Jones was separately made liable for over $1.4 billion in the Connecticut case, in which his defense presented none of their own testimony or evidence. A lawyer for Jones argued in Texas court that prior cases in which Texas restrictions on punitive damages were surpassed “involved more severe emotional injury than Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis had proved,” per the Times, referring to the Sandy Hook parents who were the plaintiffs in these proceedings. Scarlett Lewis discussed an incident in which a stranger showed up to a family residence on Christmas and began taking pictures, while Neil Heslin talked of gunfire hitting his car and residence. What more would these people need to prove? That fire rained from heaven? “This person and this company have done something horrible,” Guerra Gamble observed. “Sometimes you are so busy working, you forget what you are sworn to do,” she added, discussing the weight of the case and the need to adhere to the state Constitution.
A report from The Washington Post on ongoing bankruptcy proceedings involving Jones shared that a lawyer involved in representing the Sandy Hook families suggested plaintiffs could settle at least in part for Jones ending his broadcast career. There are remaining questions to be answered in bankruptcy court, including the legitimacy of millions in claimed debts at the Jones-led company that is the subject of the proceedings, Free Speech Systems.