Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay at least $965 million (£869 million) in damages to families of the Sandy Hook shooting victims for falsely claiming they were actors who faked the tragedy.
A US jury delivered the verdict on Wednesday, after a three-week trial in a state court in Connecticut. It far outstrips the $49 million (£44 million) Jones was ordered to pay by a Texas jury in a similar case in August.
The complainants were relatives of 20 children and six staff members who were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. Jones claimed for years that the massacre was staged as part of a government plot to take away Americans’ guns.
Jurors said the families should also be awarded lawyer’s fees, which are set to be determined in November.
Lawyers for families of eight Sandy Hook victims during closing arguments in Connecticut last week said Jones cashed in for years on lies about the shooting, which drove traffic to his Infowars website and boosted sales of its various products.
The families, meanwhile, suffered a decade-long campaign of harassment and death threats by Jones’s followers, lawyer Chris Mattei said.
”Every single one of these families (was) drowning in grief, and Alex Jones put his foot right on top of them,”Mr Mattei told jurors.
Jones’s lawyer said during his closing arguments that the complainants had shown scant evidence of quantifiable losses.
Norman Pattis urged jurors to ignore the political undercurrents in the case.
”This is not a case about politics,” Mr Pattis said. “It’s about how much to compensate the plaintiffs.”
The trial included weeks of anguished testimony from the families, who filled the gallery each day and took turns recounting how Jones’s lies about Sandy Hook compounded their grief. An FBI agent who responded to the shooting is also a complainant in the case.
Jones, who has since acknowledged that the shooting occurred, also testified and briefly threw the trial into chaos as he railed against his liberal critics and refused to apologise to the families.
In August, another jury found that Jones and his company must pay $49.3 million to Sandy Hook parents in a similar case in Austin, Texas, where the headquarters of Jones’ Infowars conspiracy theory website is located.
Jones’ lawyers have said they hope to void most of the payout in the Texas case before it is approved by a judge, calling it excessive under state law.