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Jury Orders Alex Jones to Pay $45.2 Million in Sandy Hook Case

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AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas jury ordered the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Friday to pay the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting $45.2 million in punitive damages for spreading the lie that they helped stage the massacre.

The jury announced its decision a day after awarding the parents more than $4 million in compensatory damages and after testimony on Friday that Mr. Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of his misinformation-peddling media outlet, Infowars, were worth $135 million to $270 million.

Mr. Jones was found liable last year for defaming the victims’ families while spreading bogus theories that the shooting had been part of a government plot to confiscate Americans’ firearms and that the victims’ families had been complicit in the scheme.

Compensatory damages are based on proven harm, loss or injury, and are often calculated based on the fair market value of damaged property, lost wages and expenses, according to Cornell Law School. Punitive damages are intended to punish especially harmful behavior and tend to be granted at the court’s discretion, and are sometimes many multiples of a compensatory award.

The case decided this week was brought by Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, died in the attack in Newtown, Conn. It was the first to arise from several lawsuits filed by victims’ parents in 2018.

“This is an important day for truth, for justice, and I couldn’t be happier,” Ms. Lewis said in the courtroom after the verdict.

Before the jurors began deliberating about the punitive damages, Wesley Todd Ball, a lawyer for the family, told the jury that it had “the ability to send a message for everyone in this country and perhaps this world to hear.”

“We ask that you send a very, very simple message, and that is: Stop Alex Jones,” he said. “Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies. Please.”

Mr. Ball had asked the jury for punitive damages of about $146 million, in addition to the $4 million in compensatory damages awarded on Thursday.

How much Mr. Jones will actually have to pay in punitive damages is certain to be the subject of further litigation. Texas law caps punitive damages at two times the compensatory damages plus $750,000.

But Mark Bankston, a lawyer for Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis, told reporters on Thursday that the issue is likely to end up before the Texas Supreme Court, and legal experts said there were disagreements about the constitutionality of the cap.

Mr. Jones’s lawyer, F. Andino Reynal, said the punitive award would ultimately be reduced to $1.5 million.

Mr. Jones believes “the First Amendment is under siege, and he looks forward to continuing the fight,” Mr. Reynal said after the verdict.

After the jury award, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble also cleared the way for another step that could prove problematic for Mr. Jones.

The lawyers for the family had disclosed during the trial that Mr. Jones’s team had sent them, apparently inadvertently, a huge cache of data from Mr. Jones’s cellphone, and on Friday Judge Gamble said she would not stand in the way of the lawyers for Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis providing the messages to law enforcement and the House Jan. 6 committee.

The committee has subpoenaed Mr. Jones in its investigation over his role in helping plan the pro-Trump rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, that preceded the attack on the Capitol.

In the Sandy Hook defamation cases, a trial for damages in another of the suits is scheduled to begin next month in Connecticut, but it could be delayed because of a bankruptcy filing last week by Free Speech Systems. Lawyers for the families criticized the move as another attempt by Mr. Jones to shield his wealth and evade judgment.

The Texas case allowed the plaintiffs to introduce testimony about Mr. Jones’s wealth and the operations of his companies, which in addition to carrying his broadcasts make money by selling merchandise.

Bernard Pettingill Jr., a forensic economist and former economics professor at the Florida Institute of Technology, testified as a witness for Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis on Friday that Mr. Jones “is a very successful man.”

Infowars averaged $53.2 million in annual revenue between September 2015 and December 2018, Mr. Pettingill said. Since then, there has been a “nice healthy increase” in the company’s revenue, including from sales of survivalist merchandise and supplements, and it brought in nearly $65 million last year, he said.

At one point, Mr. Jones was paying himself an average of $6 million a year, Mr. Pettingill said.

In its bankruptcy filing, Free Speech Systems reported $14.3 million in assets as of May 31, with $1.9 million in net income and nearly $11 million in product sales. Free Speech Systems also had nearly $79.2 million in debts, 68 percent of it in the form of a note to PQPR Holdings, an entity that names Mr. Jones as a manager.

Last year, after Mr. Jones was ruled liable by default in the Sandy Hook cases, he began funneling $11,000 per day into PQPR, Mr. Pettingill said.

The “gigantic” loan from PQPR, a shell company without any employees, is actually Mr. Jones “using that note as a clawback to pay himself back,” Mr. Pettingill said, although Mr. Jones’s lawyer insisted that PQPR is a real company. Another note is set to mature when Mr. Jones is 74 (he is now 48).

Mr. Pettingill said he had managed to track nine private Jones-associated companies, but had to cobble together information in part because Mr. Jones’s team resisted discovery orders.

“We can’t really put a finger on what he does for a living, how he actually makes his money,” he said.

“His organization chart is an inverted T, which means everything flows to Alex Jones. Alex Jones made all the major decisions, and I think Alex Jones knows where the money is,” Mr. Pettingill said. “He can say he’s broke, he has no money, but we know that’s not correct.”

Mr. Reynal, the lawyer for Mr. Jones, said in his closing statement on Friday that “we didn’t get any evidence as to what Alex Jones actually has today, we didn’t get any of what F.S.S. has today, what money they have, what assets they have to pay.”

Mr. Jones and associates such as the Genesis Communications Network, which helped syndicate his show for decades, have claimed to be down to the financial wire, using the defamation cases as an opportunity to beg fans for donations.

Mr. Jones has complained that his revenue plunged after he was barred from major social media platforms in 2018. Mr. Bankston pushed back in court on Wednesday: “Well, after your deplatforming, your numbers keep getting better,” he said.

After the verdict on Friday, Ms. Lewis stressed the importance of her having gotten an opportunity during the trial to confront Mr. Jones directly in the courtroom earlier in the week.

“I got to look into his eyes and I got to tell him the impact his actions had on me and my family and not just us — all the other Sandy Hook families, all the people that live in Sandy Hook and then the ripple effect that that had throughout the world,” she said. “That was a cathartic moment for me.”

It was also important, she said, that Mr. Jones saw a video, presented in court, of Jesse alive, running through a field. “I think he’s been punished,” she said of Mr. Jones. “I think he’s been held accountable, and I’m hoping he really takes this to heart because in the end love is a choice, and what he’s putting out there — lies, hatred — that’s a choice, too.”

Elizabeth Williamson reported from Austin, Tiffany Hsu from San Francisco and Michael Levenson from New York.



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EU officials slam Biden administration for ‘profiting’ off Ukraine war

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A collection of high-ranking European officials are fed up with the Biden administration for what they view as war profiteering during the conflict in Ukraine.

The comments come amid rising gas prices and mounting tension toward US legislation that offers tax credits to those who “Buy American.”

Meanwhile, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is pushing European economies toward recession while the US is benefitting, some officials claim.

“The fact is, if you look at it soberly, the country that is most profiting from this war is the US because they are selling more gas and at higher prices, and because they are selling more weapons,” one senior EU official told POLITICO.

The European Union has turned to the US for gas to reduce reliance on Russian fuel — but the price the EU is paying is reportedly four times higher than what Americans are shelling out for the same product.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed the EU to look toward the US for gas.
AP

“The United States sells us its gas with a multiplier effect of four when it crosses the Atlantic,” Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, said on French TV on Wednesday. “Of course the Americans are our allies … but when something goes wrong it is necessary also between allies to say it.”

The Biden administration has adamantly denied price-hiking accusations and instead blamed the high costs on the Ukrainian conflict.

“The rise in gas prices in Europe is caused by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s energy war against Europe, period,” a spokesperson for Biden’s National Security Council told Politico.

Thierry Breton is the European Commissioner in Charge of Internal Market.
Thierry Breton ripped the US for up-charging gas by a multiple of four.
REUTERS

The dispute is compounded by Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, a massive tax, health care and climate package that offers tax credits to those who buy American-made electric vehicles, sparking concern among European car manufacturers.

“Nobody wants to get into a tit-for-tat or subsidy race. But what the US has done really isn’t consistent with the principles of free trade and fair competition,” Irish Trade Minister Leo Varadkar said during an emergency EU Commission meeting on Friday, according to Fortune.

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Colorado home where Chris Watts killed his family is sold

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The Colorado home where Chris Watts savagely murdered his pregnant wife and two children in 2018 has been sold, according to a report.

The five-bedroom, four-bath house in Frederick was sold for an unspecified price, The Sun reported.

It had been on the market since May when the listing said potential buyers had to submit a funding commitment of at least $600,000 from a bank.

A real estate agent posted a congratulatory note on social media to the new owners saying, “It took everything we had to get here!!! So happy for you guys and can’t wait to see the memories you make in your new home!!!” according to The Sun.

The agent then added “since it’s been asked. Yes, this was the Watts house. It is now the Miller home and they cannot wait to put love, family and laughter back into this house.”

Chris Watts was convicted of murdering Bella, Celeste and Shanann Watts in 2018.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation via AP
Christopher Watts is escorted into the courtroom before his bond hearing at the Weld County Courthouse in Greeley, Colo.
Christopher Watts is escorted into the courtroom before his bond hearing at the Weld County Courthouse in Greeley, Colorado, on Aug. 16, 2018.
Joshua Polson/The Greeley Tribune via AP, Pool, file
Chris Watts
Chris Watts murdered his pregnant wife and two children.
Weld County Sheriffs Office/MEGA

Watts was convicted of the 2018 killings of his wife, Shanann, 34, and daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3,

The murders were the subject of the Netflix documentary “American Murder: The Family Next Door.”

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Queen Elizabeth II worried Prince Harry was ‘over-in-love’ with Meghan Markle: biography

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Queen Elizabeth II thought grandson Prince Harry was “perhaps a little over-in-love” with his new bride Meghan Markle, according to an upcoming biography.

“This was as far as she came – to my knowledge at least – to ever uttering a word against the new Duchess of Sussex,” British broadcaster Gyles Brandreth wrote in “Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait.”

The late British monarch was “truly delighted” when her grandson said he was marrying Markle, according to the book which will be released in December.

“She liked Meghan and told lots of people so. And she did everything she could to make her future granddaughter-in-law feel welcome,” according to the biography, an excerpt of which was published in the Daily Mail.

The Queen wasn’t even put off by the Sussexes infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey.

“I can tell you, because I know this, that the Queen was always more concerned for Harry’s well-being than about ‘this television nonsense’, meaning both the Oprah Winfrey interview – which caused so much controversy – and the lucrative deal the Sussexes made with Netflix,” wrote Brandreth, a former MP who has long known the royal family.

The Queen had a form of myeloma, according to the biography.

The Queen reportedly did not care about the Sussex's Netflix deal.
The Queen was reportedly happy that Prince Harry was marrying Meghan.

WINDSOR, ENGLAND - MAY 19: (EDITORS NOTE: Retransmission of #960087582 with alternate crop.) Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex wave from the Ascot Landau Carriage during their carriage procession on Castle Hill outside Windsor Castle in Windsor, on May 19, 2018 after their wedding ceremony. (Photo by Aaron Chown - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle outside Windsor Castle on their wedding day on May 19, 2018.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 26: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Queen Elizabeth II at the Queen's Young Leaders Awards Ceremony at Buckingham Palace on June 26, 2018 in London, England. The Queen's Young Leaders Programme, now in its fourth and final year, celebrates the achievements of young people from across the Commonwealth working to improve the lives of people across a diverse range of issues including supporting people living with mental health problems, access to education, promoting gender equality, food scarcity and climate change. (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on June 26, 2018.

He wrote that the monarch was “was anxious that Harry should ‘find his feet’ in California and ‘find really useful things to do’. “

Brandreth also revealed in the book that he “had heard that the Queen had a form of myeloma — bone marrow cancer — which would explain her tiredness and weight loss and those ‘mobility issues’ we were often told about during the last year or so of her life.”

The Queen died in September at 96 with the official cause of death listed as old age.

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