EXPLAINER: Jurors weigh cost of Alex Jones’ Sandy Hook lies

Oct 6, 2022, 10:00 AM | Updated: Oct 7, 2022, 2:55 pm
Infowars founder Alex Jones appears in court to testify during the Sandy Hook defamation damages tr...

Infowars founder Alex Jones appears in court to testify during the Sandy Hook defamation damages trial at Connecticut Superior Court in Waterbury, Conn. Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. Jones was found liable last year by default for damages to plaintiffs without a trial, as punishment for what the judge called his repeated failures to turn over documents to their lawyers. The six-member jury is now deciding how much Jones and Free Speech Systems, Infowars’ parent company, should pay the families for defaming them and intentionally inflicting emotional distress. (Tyler Sizemore/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP, Pool)

(Tyler Sizemore/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP, Pool)

              Jacqueline Barden pauses as she testifies during the Alex Jones Sandy Hook defamation damages trial at Connecticut Superior Court in Waterbury, Conn., Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. The Barden family lost their sone Daniel in the school shooting. (Christian Abraham/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP, Pool)
            
              Infowars founder Alex Jones appears in court to testify during the Sandy Hook defamation damages trial at Connecticut Superior Court in Waterbury, Conn. Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. Jones was found liable last year by default for damages to plaintiffs without a trial, as punishment for what the judge called his repeated failures to turn over documents to their lawyers. The six-member jury is now deciding how much Jones and Free Speech Systems, Infowars’ parent company, should pay the families for defaming them and intentionally inflicting emotional distress. (Tyler Sizemore/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP, Pool)
            
              David Wheeler comforts his wife Francine after she testified during the Alex Jones Sandy Hook defamation damages trial at Connecticut Superior Court in Waterbury, Conn. Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. At left is Sandy Hook parent Jacqueline Barden, who was also slated to testify on Tuesday. (Christian Abraham/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP)

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) — For a decade, the parents and siblings of people killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have been tormented and harassed by people who believe the mass shooting was a hoax.

How do you put a price tag on their suffering?

That’s part of the task faced by a Connecticut jury that has been asked to decide how much Infowars host Alex Jones and his company should pay for spreading a conspiracy theory that the massacre never happened.

The six jurors deliberated for less than an hour Thursday before breaking for the evening. They didn’t reach a verdict Friday and are scheduled to resume work next week.

Jones now acknowledges his conspiracy theories about the shooting were wrong, but says he isn’t to blame for the actions of people who harassed the families. His lawyers also say the 15 plaintiffs have exaggerated stories about being subjected to threats and abuse.

Here are some questions and answers about the deliberations.

COULD THE JURY DECIDE THAT WHAT JONES DID IS PROTECTED BY THE FIRST AMENDMENT?

No. A judge has already ruled that Jones is liable for defamation, infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and violating Connecticut’s unfair trade practices law. The jury’s job is to decide how much he owes for harming the people who sued him over his lies.

HOW MUCH COULD JONES PAY?

Jones, who lives in Austin, Texas, could be ordered to pay as little as $1 to each plaintiff or potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to them. The decision will be based on whether the jury determines the harm to the families was minimal or extensive.

Christopher Mattei, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the jury should award the plaintiffs at least $550 million. Jones’ lawyer, Norm Pattis, says any damages awarded should be minimal.

HOW DOES THE JURY COME UP WITH THE DOLLAR FIGURES?

In her instructions to the jury, Judge Barbara Bellis said there are no mathematical formulas for determining dollar amounts. Jurors, she said, should use their life experiences and common sense to award damages that are “fair, just and reasonable.”

The jury, however, heard evidence and testimony that Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, made millions of dollars from selling nutritional supplements, survival gear and other items. A company representative testified it has made at least $100 million in the past decade.

WHAT KIND OF DAMAGES ARE THE JURY CONSIDERING?

Jurors could award both compensatory and punitive damages.

Compensatory damages are often meant to reimburse people for actual costs such as medical bills and income loss, but they also include compensation for emotional distress that can reach into the millions of dollars.

Punitive damages are meant to punish a person for their conduct. If the jury decides Jones should pay punitive damages, the judge would determine the amount.

DOES CONNECTICUT CAP DAMAGES?

No, and yes. The state does not limit compensatory damages, while punitive damages are limited in many cases to attorney’s fees and costs. So if the jury says Jones should pay punitive damages, he would potentially have to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Sandy Hook families’ lawyers’ costs.

IS THIS THE FIRST TIME JONES HAS FACED A VERDICT LIKE THIS?

No. At a similar trial in Texas in August, a jury ordered the Infowars show host to pay nearly $50 million to the parents of one of the children killed in the school shooting for pushing the lie that the massacre was a hoax.

But legal experts say Jones probably won’t pay the full amount. In most civil cases, Texas law limits how much defendants have to pay in “exemplary,” or punitive, damages to twice the “economic damages” plus up to $750,000. But jurors are not told about this cap. Eye-popping verdicts are often hacked down by judges.

A third trial in Texas involving the parents of another child slain at Sandy Hook is expected to begin near the end of the year.

___

Find AP’s full coverage of the Alex Jones trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/alex-jones

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Former President Donald Trump, left, and Michigan Republican attorney general candidate Matt...
Associated Press

Defeated election conspiracists seek to lead Michigan GOP

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Republicans who lost their races for Michigan’s top three statewide offices after promoting falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election are not planning to go quietly. Two of the candidates who denied President Joe Biden’s victory in the state have announced plans to run for the position that leads the state […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Estonia to buy U.S. rocket artillery system in $200M deal

HELSINKI (AP) — NATO member and Russia’s neighbor Estonia is boosting its defense capabilities by acquiring an advanced U.S. rocket artillery system in the Baltic country’s largest arms procurement project ever, defense officials said Saturday. A deal signed Friday for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is worth more than $200 million and includes equipment […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Strong quake shakes main Indonesia island; no tsunami alert

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A strong earthquake shook parts of Indonesia’s main island of Java on Saturday, causing panic and sending people into the streets, but there were no immediate reports of casualties. Officials said there was no danger of a tsunami. The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake at magnitude 5.7 and said it […]
1 day ago
Migrant workers with their belongings leave a barricaded village after authorities' easing of COVID...
Associated Press

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities on Saturday announced a further easing of COVID-19 curbs with major cities such as Shenzhen and Beijing no longer requiring negative tests to take public transport. The slight relaxation of testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs, and follows weekend protests across the country by residents […]
1 day ago
FILE - A protester holding flowers is confronted by a policeman during a protest on a street in Sha...
Associated Press

At Shanghai vigil, bold shout for change preceded crackdown

SHANGHAI (AP) — The mourners in Shanghai lit candles and placed flowers. Someone scrawled “Urumqi, 11.24, Rest in Peace” in red on cardboard — referring to the deadly apartment fire in China’s western city of Urumqi that sparked anger over perceptions the country’s strict COVID-19 measures played a role in the disaster. What started as […]
1 day ago
A police officer tries to keep the roadway clear as people come to view the Mauna Loa volcano as it...
Associated Press

Molten lava on Hawaii’s Big Island could block main highway

HILO, Hawaii (AP) — Many people on the Big Island of Hawaii are bracing for major upheaval if lava from Mauna Loa volcano slides across a key highway and blocks the quickest route connecting two sides of the island. The molten rock could make the road impassable and force drivers to find alternate coastal routes […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
EXPLAINER: Jurors weigh cost of Alex Jones’ Sandy Hook lies