MADISON, Wis — A jury in Wisconsin has awarded $450,000 to the father of a boy killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting after he filed a defamation lawsuit against conspiracy theorist writers who claimed the massacre never happened.
A Dane County jury on Tuesday decided the amount James Fetzer must pay Leonard Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was among the 26 victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.
Fetzer, a retired University of Minnesota Duluth professor now living in Wisconsin, and Mike Palacek co-wrote a book, "Nobody Died at Sandy Hook," in which they claimed the Sandy Hook shooting never took place but was instead an event staged by the federal government as part of an Obama administration effort to enact tighter gun restrictions. A judge earlier ruled Pozner was defamed by statements in the book that claimed he fabricated copies of his son's death certificate.
Fetzer called the damages amount "absurd" and said he would appeal.
Palacek reached a settlement with Pozner last month, terms of which were not disclosed.
Pozner has been pushing back for years against hoaxers who have harassed him, subjected him to death threats and claimed that he was an actor and his son never existed. He has spent years getting Facebook and others to remove conspiracy videos and set up a website to debunk conspiracy theories.
Others who lost relatives in the Newtown shooting have joined the fight lately after quietly enduring harassment and ridiculous assertions for years. Their efforts have turned the tables on the hoaxers. A defamation case by Sandy Hook parents against Alex Jones, host of the conspiracy-driven "Infowars" website, is pending.
Pozner thanked the jury "for recognizing the pain and terror that Mr. Fetzer has purposefully inflicted on me and on other victims of these horrific mass casualty events, like the Sandy Hook shooting," and emphasized that his case was not about First Amendment protections, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
"Mr. Fetzer has the right to believe that Sandy Hook never happened," he said. "He has the right to express his ignorance. This award, however, further illustrates the difference between the right of people like Mr. Fetzer to be wrong and the right of victims like myself and my child to be free from defamation, free from harassment and free from the intentional infliction of terror."
Pozner testified during the trial that he's been repeatedly harassed by people who don't believe the Sandy Hook shooting occurred, including through messages posted to photos of his son on a memorial website. He said Fetzer's writing caused him to worry about his safety and his family's safety and how his surviving children could be treated. One of his two daughters is Noah's twin.