Deliberations continue in Waterbury on Tuesday in the ongoing libel trial of Infowars host Alex Jones.
For a decade, parents and siblings of those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were tormented and harassed by people who believed the mass shooting was a hoax.
How to put a price on their suffering?
It’s part of the task facing a Connecticut jury who have been asked to decide how much Jones and company should pay to spread a conspiracy theory that the massacre never happened.
The six jurors deliberated for less than an hour on Thursday before breaking up for the evening. They spent all Friday deliberating but were sent home for the weekend without reaching a verdict.
Jones now acknowledges that his conspiracy theories about the shooting were false, but says he is not responsible for the actions of the people who harassed the families. His attorneys also say all 15 plaintiffs have exaggerated histories of 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 violation of Connecticut’s unfair trade practices law. The jury’s job is to decide how much he owes for hurting the people who sued him for 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 that the harm caused to the families was minimal or significant.
Christopher Mattei, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the jury should award the plaintiffs at least $550 million. Jones’ lawyer, Norm Pattis, said the damages awarded should be minimal.
How does the jury find the dollar figures?
In her instructions to the jury, Judge Barbara Bellis said there was no mathematical formula for determining the dollar amounts. Jurors, she said, should use their life experiences and common sense to award “fair, just and reasonable” damages.
The jury, however, heard evidence and testimony that Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, made millions of dollars selling nutritional supplements, survival gear and other items. A company representative said it has earned at least $100 million over the past decade.
What type of damages does the jury consider?
Jurors could award compensatory and punitive damages.
Compensatory damages are often intended to reimburse actual costs such as medical bills and lost income, but they also include compensation for emotional distress that can run into the millions of dollars.
Punitive damages seek to punish a person for their conduct. If the jury decides Jones should pay punitive damages, the judge will determine the amount.
Does the Connecticut Cap damage?
No and yes. The state does not limit compensatory damages, while punitive damages are limited in many cases to attorneys’ fees and costs. So if the jury says Jones should pay punitive damages, he would potentially have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Sandy Hook families’ attorneys’ fees.
Is this the first time Jones has faced a verdict like this?
No. In a similar trial in Texas in August, a jury ordered Jones to pay nearly $50 million to the parents of one of the children killed in the school shooting for pushing the hoax on his Infowars show. .
But legal experts say Jones is unlikely to pay the full amount. In most civil cases, Texas law limits the amount defendants must pay in “exemplary” or punitive damages to twice the “economic damages” plus up to $750,000. But the jurors are not informed of this ceiling. The jaw-dropping verdicts are often pirated by judges.
A third trial in Texas involving the parents of another child killed in Sandy Hook is expected to begin later this year.
The Waterbury jury began hearing final arguments on Thursday in the libel trial of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for calling the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School a hoax.