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…