A Texas jury continued deliberations Thursday to determine how much Infowars founder Alex Jones must pay in damages to the parents of a Sandy Hook mass shooting victim for his repeated false claims that the 2012 school massacre was a “hoax.”
The ongoing deliberations come a day after an extraordinary courtroom moment in which it was revealed that Jones’s legal team inadvertently sent the contents of his cellphone to opposing counsel, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said in court Wednesday.
The apparent blunder, revealed by attorney Mark Bankston as Jones was on the stand in the damages phase of his defamation trial, unearthed previously undisclosed texts about the massacre and financial information about Infowars. Bankston, who represents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, told the far-right purveyor of conspiracy theories that his attorneys had “messed up and sent me an entire digital copy of your entire cellphone.”
“And that is how I know you lied to me when you said you didn’t have text messages about Sandy Hook,” Bankston said.
“This is your ‘Perry Mason’ moment,” Jones responded, a reference to the fictional lawyer famed for his stunning 11th-hour courtroom reveals. “I gave them my phone.”
Bankston noted that Jones had testified under oath that he personally searched his cellphone for Sandy Hook text messages and was unable to find any. Bankston asked: “You know what perjury is, right? I just want to make sure you know before we go any further.”
Jones denied lying, saying, “I’m not a tech guy.”
The dramatic moment came as Bankston cross-examined Jones, shortly before closing arguments in the damages phase of the defamation trial that began last week in an Austin courtroom. Heslin and Lewis sued in 2018 over the far-right media personality’s relentless false claims that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a “giant hoax.”
After Jones’s years-long refusal to comply with court orders and hand over documents and evidence in lawsuits, District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County, Tex., found Jones responsible for all damages in September. She issued a default judgment against Jones, blasting him and his website’s parent company, Free Speech Systems, for having “intentionally disobeyed” the court’s requests by refusing to turn over documents related to the various lawsuits against him.
While confronting Jones about the newly discovered text messages in court Wednesday, Bankston displayed one of them, in which an editor who worked for Jones sent him a screenshot of an Infowars article claiming a hospital was using dummies in a coronavirus ward. The editor, Paul Watson, wrote that it “makes us look ridiculous” and added, “Sandy Hook all over again.” Jones texted back, “I get it.”
Bankston also asked about Jones’s emails. He noted that Jones had testified that he did not have any about Sandy Hook because he doesn’t use email. Jones said in court: “Yes. I personally do not get on the internet and sit there and use email. I’ve never sent emails myself. Because I don’t like it. I can’t stand it. There’s too many of them.”
The attorney then displayed emails he said Jones had sent to lawyers, staff and others about business operations.
Bankston zeroed-in on messages about Infowars financial information, which he said contradicted Jones’s previous statements about the amount of money he made. Bankston pointed out that Jones had claimed he had lost millions because of deplatforming and made up to $200,000 a day. But, he said, messages on Jones’s phone suggested Infowars brought in as much as $800,000 on some days. If he kept up that pace, he said, it would add up to about $300 million a year.
Jones claimed that the numbers were cherry-picked. At one point, as Bankston went over the contents of the phone, he scoffed, “This is ridiculous.”
Gamble told jurors that what the lawyers say is not evidence, adding that without evidence, it is not yet known whether the contents of the phone were given to the Sandy Hook parents’ attorney by accident.
“But what we do know,” the judge said, “is that it wasn’t properly turned over when it should have been.”
Despite conceding in testimony Wednesday that the 2012 shooting was not a hoax but “100 percent real,” Jones throughout the trial has continued to defend himself from critics of his broadcast program while seeking to protect his financial assets from potentially devastating damages that could be awarded to the plaintiffs.
Jones last week made an emergency bankruptcy filing for Free Speech Systems, just months after filing for bankruptcy protection for Infowars and two other business ventures.
A pricey damages payout would add to the string of legal losses for Jones and Infowars since parents of Sandy Hook victims began to file defamation suits in 2018, after Jones made repeated claims on his show that the shooting was a hoax and the victims were “crisis actors.” Judges in Connecticut and Texas have issued default judgments against Jones in multiple suits.
Jones has been sued by at least nine Sandy Hook families.