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State District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble announced Tuesday that she plans to order InfoWars founder Alex Jones to pay the full $49.3 million that an Austin jury awarded to the parents of 6-year-old Sandy-Hook despite a Texas law - elementary school shooting victim Jesse Lewis had awarded the limited punitive damages.
After a two-week trial in July and August, an Austin jury awarded Jesse Lewis' parents, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, $4.1 million in damages for defamation and willful infliction of emotional distress by Jones, who for years promoted false conspiracy theories The parents were "crisis actors" and the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax designed to promote gun control. The jury then added $45.2 million in punitive damages to Jones' sentence, for a total of $49.3 million.
However, Texas law limits punitive damages, intended to punish the defendant and deter similar behavior, to twice the economic loss plus an additional $750,000 or less.
Attorneys for Heslin and Lewis, along with attorneys for Jones and his trial attorney Andino Reynal, appeared Tuesday in a Travis County circuit court to present Guerra Gamble with her arguments on whether to rule the Heslin and Lewis case as an exception to the state cap.
Attorneys for Heslin and Lewis argued that the Texas limit on punitive damages does not apply to cases where a defendant "willfully, knowingly, or recklessly causes serious intellectual disability, impairment, or injury to persons with disabilities." They argued that Heslin and Lewis experienced debilitating grief and trauma at the loss of their son after Jones' Sandy Hook conspiracy theories led to nearly a decade of harassment and threats from his followers, and caused additional emotional damage.
More:Alex Jones trial: Parent says hoax turned life into 'living hell'
Lawyers for Jones and his parent company, Free Speech Systems, disagreed, arguing that the emotional injuries Jones inflicted were not severe enough to qualify for an exemption from the cap.
Alex Jones will testify at his Austin trial on August 2. The judge in the case plans to order the InfoWars founder to pay the full $49.3 million that an Austin jury awarded to the parents of a 6-year-old Sandy Hook elementary school victim.
But after a day of arguments, Guerra Gamble questioned the constitutionality of the punitive damages cap.
“Sometimes you get so busy with work that you forget what you promised yourself. ...One thing this case did for me was that made me stop and ask, 'Do we all, attorneys and judges, remember the oaths we took?'" said Guerra Gamble, who announced that she intends to render a full verdict on the verdict of the jury in this case.
"For me there is no question that this is a rare case, I hope it remains a rare case, where a defendant intentionally inflicted severe emotional distress in a way so unusual that the victims had no other accepted theory of redress. I feel like this case falls perfectly within that exception," Guerra Gamble said Tuesday.
“This person and this company did a terrible thing. Well, this horrible thing caused a certain amount of damage - a lot - but not enough to ensure that this person and company and other people and companies never do this again because (Jones) also made an enormous amount of money from it," said Guerra Gamble. "Then the jury said we need to penalize them so they don't do that again and no one else thinks this is okay or affordable again."
More:Alex Jones agrees Sandy Hook's portrayal was "absolutely irresponsible" as the trial nears its conclusion
Avi Moshenberg, an attorney for the Sandy Hook families, told the American statesman in a statement that he agreed with the court's finding.
"The court couldn't have said better that punitive damages are about setting an example of our country's worst behavior," Moshenberg said. "We are proud to be part of an effort to make an example of Alex Jones, who committed one of the most appalling acts of defamation in American history."
Andino Reynal, representing Jones, told Reuters on Tuesday he plans to appeal the verdict, which is one of several lawsuits Jones faced for spreading lies about the Sandy Hook mass shooting, which involved 20 children and six adults died.
In October, a Connecticut judge ruled that Jones must pay more than $1.4 billion in damages in a separate lawsuit filed by multiple families of Sandy Hook victims. Jones will face trial in Austin next year over two additional, separate lawsuits brought by Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, parents of 6-year-old Sandy Hook victim Noah Pozner, and Marcel Fontaine, whom InfoWars misidentified as a suspect in the 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
On Tuesday, attorneys for Heslin and Lewis also argued that Guerra should sanction Gamble Jones and his trial attorney Andino Reynal for misconduct in the trial and for a "bad faith" filing for Jones' InfoWars bankruptcy that ultimately delayed the trial in April. Guerra Gamble heard arguments from both sides for each of the sanctions motions, but did not issue a decision on either Tuesday.
Midway through the Heslin and Lewis trial in July, Jones' Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy, which Sandy Hook's families say Jones is using to move money and avoid paying the massive court judgments he owes the victims' families.
More:Alex Jones is using bankruptcy to avoid payouts, Sandy Hook families claim
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas judge says Alex Jones will pay Sandy Hook's parents a full $49.3 million

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