A jury in the United States has ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay $965m in damages to the families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, over his lies that the tragedy was a hoax.
The verdict on Wednesday came after three weeks of testimony in a state court in Waterbury, Connecticut, not far from where a gunman killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
It far outstripped the $49m Jones was ordered to pay by a Texas jury in a similar case in August.
Jones for years relentlessly promoted the lie that the massacre never happened, and that the grieving families seen in news coverage were actors hired as part of a plot to take away Americans’ guns.
The trial in Connecticut was marked by weeks of anguished testimony from the families, who filled the gallery each day and took turns recounting how Jones’ lies about Sandy Hook compounded their grief. An FBI agent who responded to the shooting was also a plaintiff in the case.
During closing arguments last week, lawyers for the families of eight Sandy Hook victims said Jones for years cashed in on lies about the shooting, which drove traffic to his Infowars website and boosted sales of its various products.
The families, meanwhile, suffered a decade-long campaign of harassment and death threats from Jones’s followers, lawyer Chris Mattei said.
“Every single one of these families [was] drowning in grief, and Alex Jones put his foot right on top of them,” Mattei told jurors.
Jones’s lawyer, Norman Pattis, countered during his closing arguments that the plaintiffs had shown scant evidence of quantifiable losses and urged jurors to ignore the political undercurrents in the case.
“This is not a case about politics,” Pattis said. “It’s about how much to compensate the plaintiffs.”
At the jury’s request, court began on Wednesday with a replay of a roughly hourlong audio recording of trial testimony from William Sherlach, whose wife, school psychologist Mary Sherlach, was among those killed in the massacre.
Sherlach testified that he worried for his and his family’s safety because of the shooting deniers’ vitriol.
He said he saw online posts falsely positing that the shooting was a hoax; that his wife never existed; that she did not have the credentials to be a school psychologist; that his family was actually named Goldberg and lived in Florida, and that he was part of a financial cabal and somehow involved with the school shooter’s father.
Other parents and siblings of the Sandy Hook victims told the Connecticut court during the past weeks about how they were threatened and harassed for years by people who believed the lies told on Jones’s show.
Strangers showed up at their homes to record them. People hurled abusive comments on social media.
Erica Lafferty, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, testified that people mailed rape threats to her house. Mark Barden told of how conspiracy theorists had urinated on the grave of his seven-year-old son, Daniel, and threatened to dig up the coffin.
Jones, who has since acknowledged that the shooting occurred, also testified and briefly threw the trial into chaos as he railed against his “liberal” critics and refused to apologize to the families.
In August, another jury ordered Jones and his company to pay $49.3m to a separate pair of Sandy Hook parents after a trial in Austin, Texas, where the headquarters of Jones’s Infowars conspiracy theory website is located.
Jones now faces a third trial, in Texas around the end of the year, in a lawsuit filed by the parents of another child killed in the shooting.