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Alex Jones must pay Sandy Hook families nearly $1 billion for hoax claims, jury says

Oct 12 (Reuters) – Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay at least $965 million in damages to numerous families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting for falsely claiming they were actors who faked the tragedy, a Connecticut jury said on Wednesday.

The verdict, which came after three weeks of testimony in a state court in Waterbury, Connecticut, far outstripped the $49 million Jones was ordered to pay by a Texas jury in a similar case in August.

The plaintiffs were relatives of 20 children and six staff members who were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. Jones claimed for years that the massacre was staged as part of a government plot to take away Americans’ guns.

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Jurors said the plaintiffs should also be awarded attorney’s fees, which are set to be determined in November.

During a live broadcast as the verdict was read, Jones vowed to appeal and said his company’s ongoing bankruptcy will protect Infowars in the meantime.

“We’re fighting Goliath,” he said.

Attorneys for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Lawyers for families of eight Sandy Hook victims during closing arguments in Connecticut last week said Jones cashed in for years 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 by Jones’ followers, attorney 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’ lawyer countered during his closing arguments that the plaintiffs had shown scant evidence of quantifiable losses. The attorney, Norman Pattis, 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.”

Douglas E. Mirell, a defamation lawyer who was not involved in the case, said the sizable verdict sent a clear message of “revulsion” from the jury.

“His refusal to own up to the mendacity and lies that he promulgated time and time again over many years has now caught up with him,” Mirell told Reuters.

The trial 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 is also a plaintiff in the case.

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 found that Jones and his company must pay $49.3 million to Sandy Hook parents in a similar case in Austin, Texas, where the headquarters of Jones’ Infowars conspiracy theory website is located.

Jones’ lawyers have said they hope to void most of the payout in the Texas case before it is approved by a judge, calling it excessive under state law.

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Reporting by Jack Queen in New York, Tom Hals in Wilmington, Del., and Jacqueline Thomsen in Washington
Editing by Noeleen Walder, Will Dunham and Matthew Lewis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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