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Sandy Hook families have yet to see any of the money they're owed by Alex Jones

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Pressure is building on Infowars host Alex Jones to pay up. Jones owes more than a billion dollars in damages to the families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The families and an FBI agent won two civil defamation suits against Jones last year, after he'd been promoting lies that the shooting was a hoax. NPR correspondent Tovia Smith has been watching this case. Hey, Tovia.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Hey, there.

SUMMERS: So Tovia, these wins for the plaintiffs - one in Texas, another in Connecticut - happened about a year ago, and Jones still hasn't paid anything. What's going on there?

SMITH: Well, it's basically that Jones says he's broke. He's filed for bankruptcy. And most recently, he told the court that his net worth is $13 million, but that he's got way more than that in debts. The plaintiffs, however, accused Jones of fudging the numbers. For example, they say he's claiming a $50 million debt to a company that's partly owned by Jones. And meantime, the plaintiffs say Jones is spending lavishly, for example, more than $93,000 in one month.

Now, Jones denies any extravagances. He says he just likes a few nice restaurants and vacations, and he also denies hiding any assets. And he's appealing both cases. So bottom line, Jones says, plaintiffs are kind of dreaming if they think they're going to get paid. Here's how he put it in a video on social media last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEX JONES: We are literally on empty. So this idea of we're going to take your money away doesn't exist because the money doesn't exist. So I don't like to laugh at these people, but, I mean, I don't know how you don't.

SUMMERS: I mean, Tovia, what about even a partial payment? Won't Jones have to pay at least something here?

SMITH: Actually, just last week, the families in the Connecticut case offered to settle for pennies on the dollar. Instead of the billion, they said they'd take 85 million over 10 years, with a possibility for more. But Jones' attorneys immediately shot that down, saying even that was too high.

SUMMERS: Remind us, if you can, about the gist of these cases and what these huge damages were actually for.

SMITH: Yeah. Nearly 50 million for the family in the Texas case and, again, more than a billion for the 15 people in the Connecticut case, so definitely enormous sums, but for what the jury saw as enormous pain and suffering caused by Jones' conspiracy theories, you know, that these grieving families were all part of a big act that was just meant to drum up support for gun control. And the families testified at trial how all that led to some Jones believers harassing and threatening them for years. I'll share one. Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed at Sandy Hook, described being so terrified she slept with weapons. And even after she moved multiple times, she said the Jones believers kept finding her.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NICOLE HOCKLEY: I got sent pictures of dead kids because I was told that as a crisis actor, I didn't really know what a dead kid looked like. I got mail telling me to slit my wrist before they did it for me. It was very scary.

SMITH: So now it's only adding to these families' torment that Alex Jones is kind of scoffing at the idea that he'll ever pay for what he did.

SUMMERS: Tovia, I mean, is there anything the courts can do to force Jones to pay up here?

SMITH: Well, a federal bankruptcy judge has said Jones cannot use bankruptcy to avoid paying most of what he owes. You know, chapter 11 usually lets you wipe the slate and start fresh. But the judge said, not here, 'cause Jones' behavior was so egregious, even bankruptcy can't protect him. So the next step now is for Jones to offer up a payment plan, probably next month. And then maybe as soon as February, the judge is expected to confirm one plan or some other plan. And meantime, the plaintiffs are saying they are not letting up. As one of their lawyers put it, even if Jones has to mow lawns to make more money, the money will end up with the families.

SUMMERS: NPR's Tovia Smith. Thank you.

SMITH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADRIAN YOUNGE SONG, "STEP BEYOND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tovia Smith
Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.