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Texas jury hears testimony on wealth of Alex Jones and his companies

APTOPIX Newtown Shooting-Infowars
Briana Sanchez / AP
/
Pool Austin American-Statesman
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones attempts to answer questions about his emails asked by Mark Bankston, lawyer for Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, during trial at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Wednesday Aug. 3, 2022. Jones testified Wednesday that he now understands it was irresponsible of him to declare the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre a hoax and that he now believes it was “100% real."

An expert witness for the families suing Alex Jones testified in a Texas courtroom Friday that the conspiracy theorist and his main companies are jointly worth between $135 million and $270 million.

“He didn’t ride a wave. He created the wave,” Bernard Francis Pettingill, Jr. told jurors in Austin. “He is a very successful guy.”

Pettingill was the only witness in Friday’s brief hearing on whether to award punitive damages to the parents of Jesse Lewis, one of the 20 elementary school students killed along with six educators at Newtown in 2012.

Punitive damages serve to punish the defendant. A jury on Thursday already awarded compensatory damages of more than $4 million to parents Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin.

In his testimony, Pettingill said that the limited information he had available to him about the privately-held company Infowars and Free Speech Systems showed that they had annual revenues of roughly $65 million. He testified that, using standard valuation formulas, that would come to a company valuation of between $65 million and $130 million. He also said that Jones has a “rabid” following and, for that reason, he thinks the valuation is closer to $130 million.

Separately, Jones’ company Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy last week.

He was also asked to put a number on the net worth of Jones, which he estimated to be between $70 million and $140 million.

Pettingill cautioned that there are lots of unknowns relating to Jones and his finances. He also said that Jones has two outstanding loans worth $53 million. But those loans, he said, “were to benefit Alex Jones for years and years to come.”

“On the books, he’s carrying this gigantic note,” Pettingill said. “When, in reality, he’s using that note as a clawback to pay himself back.”

In cross examination, a lawyer for Jones attempted to discredit the witness and his analysis.

In closing arguments, plaintiffs’ attorney Wesley Todd Ball asked the jury to force Jones to pay more than $145 million in punitive damages. And he told the jurors that they have a big job ahead of them.

“Your voice will reach wide and far outside the walls of this courtroom,” he said. “You have 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 to stop Alex Jones, stop the monetization of misinformation and lies. Please.”

He said the jury has two jobs. The first is to “punish” Jones. The second is “to deter Alex Jones from ever doing this awfulness again to another family or another person, and to deter others who may want to step into his shoes.

“You have the ability today to stop this man from ever doing this again,” Ball said. “Alex Jones is Patient Zero for our society’s inability to speak without lies.”

In response, Jones’ lawyer F. Andino Reynal told jurors that their previous judgment against his client was significant.

“You’ve sent a message, for the first time, to a talk show host, and to all talk show hosts, that their standard of care has to be different,” Reynal said. “Four million is a lot of money.

“I’m going to ask you once more to look at the facts and to look at the law,” he said. “And I’m also going to ask you to think about what justice really means.”

He ended by telling the jury that it should render a verdict that is proportional, and asked for a $270,000 judgment.

Updated: August 5, 2022 at 1:06 PM EDT
This post has been updated.
Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director. Then, in 2022, he became a senior enterprise reporter.