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Jurors Award Sandy Hook Parents $4 Million in Damages

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AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas jury on Thursday awarded the parents of a child killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School more than $4 million in compensatory damages from the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the first time he has been held financially liable for defaming the victims’ parents by spreading lies that they were complicit in a government plot to stage the shooting as a pretext for gun control.

The decision was the first in a series of potential awards against Mr. Jones. On Friday the jury will consider evidence of Mr. Jones’s net worth to determine how much, if anything, to award the parents, Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, in punitive damages.

Two other trials by Sandy Hook parents seeking damages from Mr. Jones have been scheduled for next month, though they may be delayed because his company filed for bankruptcy last week.

Mr. Jones has become increasingly emblematic of how misinformation and false narratives have gained traction in American society. He has played a role in spreading some of recent history’s most pernicious conspiracy theories, such as Pizzagate — in which an Infowars video helped inspire a gunman to attack a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. — as well as coronavirus myths and “Stop the Steal” falsehoods about election fraud before the Capitol assault on Jan. 6, 2021.

The verdict came after several days of emotional testimony, including 90 minutes on Tuesday when Ms. Lewis personally addressed Mr. Jones, asking him why he knowingly spread lies about the death of her child, Jesse, 6, who died along with 19 other first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“Jesse was a real boy. And I am a real mom,” Ms. Lewis told Mr. Jones. Later she admonished him: “Alex, I want you to hear this. We’re more polarized than ever as a country. Some of that is because of you.”

But the most explosive revelation came Wednesday, when the family’s lawyer, Mark Bankston, revealed that Mr. Jones’s legal team had mistakenly sent him the entire contents of Mr. Jones’s cellphone, including at least two years’ worth of incriminating text messages now of interest to the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. The committee is scrutinizing Mr. Jones’s role in planning events surrounding the insurrection, and Mr. Bankston is now seeking the judge’s approval to deliver the text records to prosecutors and the Jan. 6 committee.

Ms. Lewis and Mr. Heslin had requested $150 million in damages, and Mr. Bankston said he was optimistic about what the jury would award on Friday. “You can probably imagine that if a jury returns a verdict exceeding $4 million for these plaintiffs in compensatory damages, I think punishment is probably going to be in that range or higher,” Mr. Bankston said. “I think it’s perfectly expected that we’re going to see an over nine-figure judgment against Mr. Jones.”

He added: “It’s been a long journey, and it’s really, really nice to able to turn and look at my clients, and say ‘he can’t get off scot-free for this. He can’t. You had a defendant who went into that courtroom and said, ‘I think I should have to pay them a dollar.’ And this jury said no.”

Mr. Jones said in his bankruptcy filing that he had paid $15 million so far in legal costs for the Sandy Hook litigation. Citing the damages that Ms. Lewis and Mr. Heslin had requested, Mr. Jones called the award a “major victory” in a video posted on Infowars on Thursday night, even as he urged viewers to buy products from his website to stave off what he portrayed as financial ruin.

“I admitted I was wrong,” he said. “I admitted it was a mistake. I admitted that I followed disinformation but not on purpose. I apologized to the families. And the jury understood that.”

Mr. Jones lost a series of Sandy Hook defamation suits by default last year after repeatedly failing to provide court-ordered documents and testimony. Those rulings set the stage for the trial this summer.

More important than money, the Sandy Hook families have said, is society’s verdict on a culture in which viral misinformation damages lives and destroys reputations.

“Speech is free, but lies you have to pay for,” Mr. Bankston told the jury last week. “This is a case about creating change.”

At the heart of the trial was a June 2017 episode of NBC’s “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” that profiled Mr. Jones. In the broadcast, Mr. Heslin protested Mr. Jones’s denial of the shooting. He recalled his last moments with Jesse, saying, “I held my son with a bullet hole through his head.”

Afterward, Mr. Jones and Owen Shroyer, an Infowars host, aired shows implying that Mr. Heslin had lied.

“Will there be a clarification from Heslin or Megyn Kelly?” Mr. Shroyer said on Infowars. “I wouldn’t hold your breath.”

During the trial, Mr. Jones’s lawyer, F. Andino Reynal, said that Mr. Jones was essentially running his own defense. After much uncertainty about whether the conspiracy broadcaster would testify, he was adamant that he would appear as the sole witness in his defense.

Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis deployed a variety of experts. The trial opened with testimony from Dan Jewiss, a retired Connecticut State Police investigator who led the Sandy Hook case; a forensic psychiatrist and the psychologist who treated Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis; and several Infowars employees, whose dubious statements allowed the family’s lawyers to submit evidence that was damaging to Mr. Jones, including a televised version of the full interview with Ms. Kelly, in which Mr. Jones advanced incendiary false claims.

Mr. Jones’s audience and corresponding revenues have risen sharply, to more than $50 million annually, in the decade since Sandy Hook.

His defense of the Second Amendment after the mass shooting brought attention from mainstream news organizations. But it was Mr. Jones’s alliance with former President Donald J. Trump, who appeared on Infowars in December 2015, that moved him from the far-right fringes to the center of Republican Party populism.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Trump have often echoed the same incendiary false claims, including the racist “birther” lie that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States; that Muslims in the New York area “celebrated” the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and the 2020 election falsehoods that brought violence to the Capitol last year.

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Slain Idaho student Madison Mogen’s stepdad speaks out: ‘We’re angry’

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The devastated stepfather of Madison Mogen, one of the four slain University of Idaho students, described her death as “the hardest thing in the world” — as he shared his frustration in the lack of progress in the case.

“It’s still hard to believe sometimes. We get up in the morning, and it’s like, ‘Nah this isn’t happening,’ then it kicks in,” Scott Laramie told Fox News Digital on Monday.

The 21-year-old student known as Maddie, her close friend Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and her boyfriend Ethan Chapin, 20, were butchered in the off-campus home in Moscow on Nov. 13.

Authorities have not yet named a suspect or found the knife used in the massacre that has left the community reeling.

Laramie said police told him they have no leads nearly three weeks after the shocking crime.

Jake Schriger and his girlfriend Maddie Mogen, one of the four slain University of Idaho students.
maddiemogen/Instagram

“They update us every day. We asked them to check in with us whether they have anything or not,” he told the outlet, as he lamented the agonizing lack of progress in the probe.

“We’re angry. Anybody would be,” he said. “I’m just hoping they come up with something sooner than later. I just would like to have justice for these kids.”

Maddie was raised by Laramie — whom she called dad — and her mother Karen Laramie in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Slain Idaho students
Slain University of Idaho students Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21.

“We love her and we miss her, and it’s the hardest thing in the world to try to figure out how to live without her,” a tearful Laramie told the news outlet.

“It’s the hardest thing to imagine right now,” he added.

On Friday, Mogen’s boyfriend, Jake Schriger, also broke his silence about losing her.


Here’s the latest coverage on the brutal killings of four college friends:


“She was the first person I talked to every morning and the last person I talked to before bed,” Schriger said at a vigil held in Post Falls, Idaho. “She was the person that I loved most.”

Laramie told Fox News Digital that he has been in touch with Schriger.

“He’s all broken up. He’s having a hard time dealing with this too. Those two, they were really good together. They really clicked,” he said.

The house where the slain roommates lived.
The four roommates shared the house with two others who were unharmed.

The scene of the Univ. of Idaho murders.
Cops have not named a suspect in the murders.

Investigators on scene of murders.
Investigators have not recovered a murder weapon.

Blood seeps through wall of murder house
Blood seeped through the exterior wall of the home.

Madison Mogen
Madison’s family has been left shattered by the shocking murders.

flyer seeking information
Authorities have not yet named a suspect or found the knife used in the massacre that has left the community reeling.

Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves.
Madison and Kaylee were close friends, according to their families.

Maddie adored all things pink and sparkly and loved rewatching the 1987 flick “The Princess Bride,” Laramie told the outlet.

“Everybody just wanted to be near her,” he said. “She had the world at her fingertips, and could have done anything she wanted to do. We were just so proud of her.”

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China’s Xi to Visit Saudi Arabia for Regional Summits

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — China’s leader will travel to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for a flurry of summits bringing together heads of state from across the Middle East, a region where longtime American allies are growing increasingly closer to China.

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, will visit the kingdom for three days and attend Saudi-China, Gulf-China and Arab-China summits, the Saudi state news agency reported on Tuesday. More than 30 heads of states and leaders of international organizations plan to attend, the report said, adding that Saudi Arabia and China were expected to sign a “strategic partnership.”

Mr. Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia is aimed at deepening China’s decades-old ties with the Gulf region, which started narrowly as a bid to secure oil, and have since developed into a complex relationship involving arms sales, technology transfers and infrastructure projects.

The Chinese leader is expected to sign a flurry of contracts with the Saudi government and other Gulf States, sending a message that Beijing’s clout in the region is growing at a time when Washington has pulled away from the Middle East to devote more attention to Asia.

The grand state visit will inevitably draw comparisons to Donald J. Trump’s arrival in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, for his first trip abroad as president in 2017. He was greeted by streets decorated with American flags and an enormous image of his face projected on the side of a building.

Saudi Arabia has been a close American ally for more than half a century. But its authoritarian rulers have long sought to deepen other alliances to prepare for an emerging multipolar world.

U.S.-Saudi ties have been especially fractious over the past few years, with the administration of President Biden declaring a “recalibration” of the relationship and pressing the kingdom over human rights violations, including the 2018 murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi — a Saudi citizen and U.S. resident at the time — by Saudi agents in Istanbul.

“Xi clearly wants to make a statement at a moment at which the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is strained,” said James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“It’s a good moment to replant the flag, if you wish. And I think it’s a good moment for the Gulf States to say, ‘Hey, we have other options. Washington, you’re not the only ones out there.’”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Vivian Nereim reported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and David Pierson from Singapore.

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What to expect in Herschel Walker-Raphael Warnock Georgia Senate runoff

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​The final​ Senate contest of the 2022 midterm elections will finally be decided in Georgia on Tuesday as voters choose between incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a ​high-stakes race that will determine whether Democrats can expand their razor-thin majority in the chamber. ​

The candidates were forced into a runoff after neither Warnock, 53, nor Walker, 60, got more than 50% of the vote in the Nov. 8 midterm election.​

Leading up to Election Day on Tuesday, early voting in the Peach State set a number of single-day records and nearly 2 million ballots had already been cast before the period ended on Friday.

Reflecting the critical significance of the race, spending by the candidates and outside groups has neared $400 million, making it the most expensive contest in the 2022 election cycle, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.org.​

​According to a RealClear Politics’ average of the polls,​ Warnock has as much as a 5 percentage point lead over his political rival Walker, a former star running back at the University of Georgia, in the USFL and in the NFL. 

Herschel Walker campaigns Dec. 4 in the runoff election in Georgia for US Senate.
JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Warnock speaking
Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., speaks during a campaign rally at Georgia Tech on Dec. 5 in Atlanta.
AP

Walker, endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has received strong support from national Republicans with a number of high-profile lawmakers trekking to Georgia to campaign with him – including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rick Scott of Florida and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. 

Trump was expected to hold a tele-rally for Walker on Monday evening. 

Former President Barack Obama rallied with Warnock last week, but Biden, like Trump, did not travel to Georgia to campaign for the senator. 

Walker speaking at a rally.
Herschel Walker speaks during a campaign stop in Smyrna, Ga., on Nov. 3.
AP
Sen. Raphael Warnock greets voters in Atlanta on Dec. 5.
Sen. Raphael Warnock greets voters in Atlanta on Dec. 5.
REUTERS

Democrats point to the large early vote as an advantage for Warnock but Republicans are hoping a surge of GOP voters on Tuesday can turn the tide for Walker. 

A win by Warnock could give Democrats a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, a margin large enough to provide Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer room to maneuver around Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have used their influence in narrow majority to block some of Biden’s legislative agenda. 

With 51 Democratic senators, Schumer could afford to lose the support of one member of his caucus and still win votes.

If Walker wins, the 50-50 split in the upper chamber would remain as it has over the past two years, with Democrats relying on Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes. 

Republicans won a small majority in the House in the Nov. 8 midterm elections. 

Trump defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by about 5 points in Georgia in the 2016 presidential election, but lost to President Biden by about less than one point in 2020. 

Early voting in the runoff election for US Senate in Georgia between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker has shattered records.
Early voting in the runoff election for US Senate in Georgia between Warnock and Walker has shattered records.
REUTERS
Voters line up to cast their ballots on Nov. 29 in the runoff election between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.
Voters line up to cast their ballots on Nov. 29 in the runoff election between Warnock and Walker.
REUTERS

But the 2020 election in Georgia was pivotal for Democrats as both Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff racked up wins to give Democrats the 50-50 majority they have in the Senate. 

Warnock, the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, defeated incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler to become the first African-American elected to the US Senate from Georgia. 

But he had to run for re-election again this year because his win over Loeffler was in a special election to finish the remainder of Sen. Johnny Isakson’s six-year term after he stepped down in 2019 because of health concerns. 

With Post wires

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