10:32, October 16 55 0 theguardian.com

2019-10-16 10:32:04
Sandy Hook father awarded $450,000 after suing conspiracy theorist

The father of a boy killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting has been awarded $450,000 by a jury in Wisconsin after he sued a conspiracy theorist who claimed the massacre never happened.

Leonard Pozner, whose six-year-old son Noah was among the 26 victims at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, sued James Fetzer and co-author Mike Palacek over their book Nobody Died at Sandy Hook, which claimed Noah’s death certificate is fake and Pozner lied about his son being dead.

While Palacek reached an undisclosed settlement with Pozner last month, the defamation suit proceeded against Fetzer. In court, Pozner, a retired Minnesota professor, claimed the statements and the harassment he had received because of the book had given him post-traumatic stress disorder.

Among them were death threats he received from Lucy Richards, a member of a group that believes Sandy Hook is a hoax used to push support for gun control.

In a separate case in 2017, Richards admitted to sending Pozner a threatening message that read, “LOOK BEHIND YOU IT IS DEATH.” She was sentenced to five months in prison followed by three years on supervised release.

On the stand this week, Pozner said his two daughters were with him when the voicemails began playing, and he was concerned for their safety. “It said a lot of ugly things. And I felt like I needed to defend my son,” he said on the stand.

On the stand, Pozner testified he had been “doing well” – and initially interacting with Sandy Hook deniers to try to defuse the situation.

“I had attempted to be transparent. I published Noah’s death certificate on a social media page I used as a memorial page. And after doing that I was accused of being a fake and a fraud and that changed everything,” he said, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The court heard from Dr Roy Lubit, a forensic psychiatrist, who testified that Pozner’s mental state “went downhill after he was confronted by the denials that it happened”.

Fetzer, however, argued that the statements in his book aren’t defamatory “because they’re true” and maintained there was no proof that Pozner’s harassers were inspired by the book.

The jury disagreed, finding three of the book’s statements to be defamatory.

Fetzer called the damages amount “absurd” and said he would appeal.

After the verdict, 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”.

Pozner went on say that the case was not about free speech rights.

“Mr Fetzer has the right to believe that Sandy Hook never happened,” he said. “He has the right to express his ignorance.”

The award, he added, “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”.