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US conspiracy theorist ruled to pay nearly $50m over false claims about school shooting

Xinhua | Updated: 2022-11-24 14:28

Alex Jones speaks to the media after appearing at his Sandy Hook defamation trial at Connecticut Superior Court in Waterbury, Connecticut, US, October 4, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

HOUSTON - A federal judge in the US state of Texas on Wednesday ruled that conspiracy theorist and media personality Alex Jones should pay nearly 50 million US dollars to a victim's parents over his false claims about the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Rejecting Jones' attempt to reduce the amount of damages, Travis County District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled that Jones must pay 45.2 million dollars in punitive damages and 4.1 million dollars in compensatory damages to Sandy Hook parents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, who lost their six-year-old son in the tragedy.

"There's no question to me that this is a rare instance, I hope it remains a rare instance, where a defendant intentionally inflicted emotional damage in a manner so unusual that the victims had no other recourse," Gamble said.

The penalty should be high enough so it "isn't affordable" to intentionally inflict this type of emotional damage again, the judge said.

Mark Bankston, the attorney for Lewis and Heslin, told the US media that his clients were "pleased with the judgement" and will continue to ensure Jones is "held accountable for the most appalling acts of defamation and harassment in American history."

An attorney for Jones told Reuters they would appeal Gamble's Tuesday ruling after the judge rejected his arguments. Jones' company Free Speech Systems, which operates conspiracy theory outlet Infowars, filed for bankruptcy protection in July.

Earlier this year, Jones was also ordered to pay around 1 billion dollars in a separate trial in Connecticut to several other families of victims in the Sandy Hook shooting.

Heslin and Lewis sought 150 million dollars from Jones after he told the audience of his website Infowars that the US government staged the Sandy Hook primary school shooting in order to take away Americans' guns and that the families and first responders were "crisis actors."

Twenty children between six and seven years old, along with six school staff members, were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, eastern US state Connecticut, in 2012. It remains one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.

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