Alex Jones told to pay more than $49m to parents of Sandy Hook massacre victim

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Alex Jones claimed the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax carried out by actors as part of a plan to increase gun control - AP
Alex Jones claimed the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax carried out by actors as part of a plan to increase gun control - AP

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been told by a US jury to pay at least $49.3 million (£40.8 million) in damages to parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre after he falsely claimed it was a hoax.

On Friday the jury in Austin, Texas, ruled that Mr Jones must pay $45.1 million in punitive damages on top of the $4.1 million in compensation already awarded for suggesting the shooting was staged.

Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin – the parents of Jesse, 6, who died alongside 19 of his classmates and staff at the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut – sued Mr Jones for $150 million in damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Following the two-week trial in Texas where Mr Jones's radio show and webcast Infowars are based, the jury found that the far-right radio show host must pay Ms Lewis and Mr Heslin for the emotional distress and reputational damage caused by his false claims.

The parents had sought $145.9 million in punitive damages and $150 million in compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are awarded to cover a plaintiff's suffering and losses. Punitive damages are awarded to punish a defendant's actions.

Scarlett Lewis, the mother of Jesse, 6, who was killed in the shooting, testifies in court - REUTERS
Scarlett Lewis, the mother of Jesse, 6, who was killed in the shooting, testifies in court - REUTERS

Trial consultant Jill Huntley Taylor said it is not uncommon for a jury to award higher punitive damages than compensatory ones.

“If jurors’ motivation for an award is their anger at the defendant, then they often award a bigger punitive damage number,” she said in an interview.

Courts in Texas and Connecticut have already found Mr Jones liable for defamation for claiming the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax carried out by actors as part of a plan to increase gun control.

Ms Lewis and Mr Heslin testified that Mr Jones's followers harassed them and sent death threats for years because they believed they were lying about their son's death.

Federico Reynal, a lawyer for Mr Jones, acknowledged during his closing argument that his client and Infowars reported "irresponsibly" on Sandy Hook but said Mr Jones was not responsible for the harassment.

He later acknowledged that the shooting took place and sought to distance himself from previous falsehoods during the trial, telling jurors it was "crazy" of him to repeatedly make the claim that the shooting was a hoax.

He said that the shooting was "100 per cent real".

Families of eight of the victims and an FBI agent who responded to the shooting are suing Mr Jones and Free Speech Systems, his media company.