$1B judgment against Alex Jones not the final word

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) – The nearly $1 billion judgment against Alex Jones for spreading false conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre brought long-awaited relief to family members and hopes the glaring number will deter others from telling untruths spread.

But Jones has shown no signs of softening his clamor — a headline on his website on Thursday blared that the “Show Trial Verdict Signals the Death of Free Speech.” And lawyers say it’s not certain relatives who lost loved ones in the mass shooting will see the full dollar amount after promised appeals and a bankruptcy hearing.

“Any plaintiff’s attorney knows, from often bitter experience, that obtaining a judgment is usually easier than enforcing it,” said John Coffee, professor of law at Columbia University.

While the verdict may be a milestone, it is not an endpoint.

Experts say the Sandy Hook families are likely to face a long battle as they try to collect the $965 million they were awarded by a Connecticut jury Wednesday and a separate $49 million verdict Texas jury in August.

Here’s a look at some of the questions raised by the ruling.


After a gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, Jones made a bogus conspiracy theory the centerpiece of his program on his flagship show Infowars.

He theorized that the shooting was a hoax staged by actors and that no children died – all in an effort to improve gun control. His shows attracted legions of followers, some of whom have spent years molesting victims’ parents and siblings, as well as an FBI agent who answered the school.

Jones was found defaulting in several defamation lawsuits after judges ruled that he and his attorneys had unlawfully withheld information and records from plaintiffs.

Trials were held in Texas and Connecticut to determine how much he owed the families for lying about them. Jones is facing a third trial in Texas in a lawsuit filed by the parents of another child killed in the shooting.


Jones has claimed he does not have the money demanded by the family members who are suing him. Jones has repeatedly said he doesn’t even have $2 million to his name.

“When the reality sets in that they’re not going to shut me up and there’s no money, it’s all an exercise in futility,” Jones said during the trial outside the Connecticut courthouse. “So whatever they’re doing in here is a Pyrrhic victory.”

The Texas trial presented a different picture.

During his testimony, Jones was confronted with a memo from one of his executives detailing a single day’s gross earnings of $800,000 from the sale of vitamin supplements and other products through his website. Jones called it a record selling day. Also, a forensic economist testified that Jones and his media company Free Speech Systems could have a combined net worth of up to $270 million.

“You can’t invent money. If $270 million is the max, you’re not going to get more, at least without finding some new sources that haven’t been uncovered,” Coffee said.

Russ Horton, a Texas attorney, said dramatically large civil judgments are often reduced on appeal. But he said even if Connecticut’s sentence is reduced, it will likely be ruinous for Jones.

“This is a verdict that will very likely exceed his net worth, whatever the outcome,” Horton said, noting the uncertainty surrounding Jones’ net worth.


To make matters worse, Jones is filing for bankruptcy protection for his company.

Free Speech Systems, Infowars’ parent company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July. Jones told a court his company had estimated assets of $50,000 or less and estimated liabilities of $1 million to $10 million. He said at the time that he was “totally exhausted” financially.

The Sandy Hook families have alleged in bankruptcy court filings that after filing their libel cases, Jones began “diverting” assets from Free Speech Systems, which totaled more than $60 million in 2021 and 2022 . They say Jones was also drawing an annual salary of $1.4 million from the company at a time when he claimed it was operating at a net loss.

Horton said the bankruptcy of Jones’ company is likely to complicate and delay the Sandy Hook families’ efforts to collect their judgments. The verdicts against Jones personally are still actionable, but their extent could force him to file for personal bankruptcy.

But bankruptcy isn’t helping Jones.

“Bankruptcy isn’t where you want to be if you’re hiding assets or misbehaving,” Horton said.

Last month, Houston-based bankruptcy judge Christopher Lopez fired Jones’ attorney and chief restructuring officer — citing a lack of transparency at his company — and authorized a Justice Department-appointed trustee to hire attorneys to investigate Free Speech Systems.

On Wednesday, Lopez approved a new restructuring officer to manage Jones’ company and appointed another judge to act as mediator to resolve disputes in the federal case.


William Sherlach, whose wife Mary Sherlach was killed at Sandy Hook, told reporters after the verdict that “people like Alex Jones have to rethink what they’re saying.”

On his show Thursday, Jones continued to attack his critics, saying, “We have two years of appeal.” While Jones has admitted in recent years that the shooting took place, he claims the families are being used to advance a gun control and anti-freedom of speech agenda.

“You’re trying to turn me off. It’s not happening,” he said Thursday.

The ruling has been compared to pro-wrestler Hulk Hogan’s invasion of privacy against gossip blog Gawker, which ultimately bankrupted the company.

But it’s not clear if the ruling would have a deterrent effect on others making false and defamatory statements, said Thomas Hentoff, a Washington-based First Amendment attorney who has represented major media outlets.

It can take years or even decades to collect verdicts, Hentoff said, and Jones’ cases were outliers because he had default judgments against him, meaning he never staged a defense.

“There are a lot of people who make money by voicing extreme views, and I would hesitate to think that a grand jury’s monetary verdict in itself would cause them to change course,” Hentoff said.


The Connecticut judge will soon rule on the amount of punitive damages, which will add to the $965 million. After that, Jones can formally appeal.

Christopher Mattei, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told MSNBC after the ruling that they were prepared for the long haul.

“Whatever fortune he has,” Mattei said, “these families will hunt him down and enforce every penny of this judgment against him.”


Hill reported from Albany NY. Bleiberg contributed from Dallas.


For AP’s full coverage of Alex Jones’ trial, go to: https://apnews.com/hub/alex-jones


This story corrects the spelling of Attorney Thomas Hentoff’s surname.

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