A jury in Wisconsin has awarded $450,000 to the father of a 6-year-old killed in the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., after a judge ruled that the man had been defamed by the publication of a book denying that a shooting even took place.
On Tuesday, a jury in Dane County determined the amount that Leonard Pozner, whose son, Noah, was the youngest of the 26 victims killed in the massacre, should be awarded after a judge ruled that the book’s authors, James Fetzer and Mike Palecek, had defamed Mr. Pozner. In their book, Mr. Fetzer and Mr. Palecek claim that Mr. Pozner faked his son’s death certificate as part of a hoax staged by the government to take guns away from Americans.
Mr. Fetzer, an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota Duluth who lives in Wisconsin, called the decision “absurd” and said he planned to appeal, according to The Wisconsin State Journal.
Richard Bolton, Mr. Fetzer’s lawyer, did not immediately respond to messages.
Mr. Palecek previously settled with Mr. Pozner for an undisclosed amount.
Mr. 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,” The State Journal reported.
“Mr. Fetzer has the right to believe that Sandy Hook never happened,” he added. “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.”
Jake Zimmerman, a lawyer representing Mr. Pozner, said the damages awarded by the jury showed there were repercussions for publishing defamatory statements.
“If you choose to defame a victim, or the family of a victim,” he said, “you’re going to have to pay.”
Mr. Pozner is also one of several family members of Sandy Hook victims pursuing defamation lawsuits against Alex Jones, a far-right provocateur and the owner of Infowars, a radio show and website that has come under fire for spreading bogus claims about the shooting, including that the victims’ families are actors in a plot to take away firearms from law-abiding citizens. The families have also endured death threats, stalking and online abuse as a result.
One case, filed by eight families and one F.B.I. agent who responded to the scene, is proceeding in Connecticut. Mr. Pozner has also filed a lawsuit in Texas, which is continuing.
The focus of the Wisconsin lawsuit was a 455-page book, titled “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook: It Was a FEMA Drill to Promote Gun Control,” which claimed the massacre at Sandy Hook was staged by the federal government to promote tighter gun control measures. Among other things, the book claimed that the school had been abandoned years before a gunman killed 20 first graders and six staff members.
In addition to peddling conspiracy theories about the massacre, Mr. Fetzer has also promoted phony theories about the Sept. 11 attacks, President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and other events.
“My face-to-face interactions with Mr. Pozner have led me to believe that Mr. Pozner is telling the truth about the death of his son,” Mr. Gahary said. “I extend my most heartfelt and sincere apology to the Pozner family.”
Mr. Pozner, who has dedicated his life to preventing denials of the shooting, on Dec. 14, 2012, founded an advocacy group, the HONR Network, to push corporations, like YouTube and Facebook, to remove false information about the massacre, and to provide new ways for users to report hateful content.
Throughout, Mr. Pozner has been subjected to harassment and death threats, causing his family to move several times and live in hiding. One Florida woman was sentenced to five months in prison after she sent profanity-laced messages telling Mr. Pozner that he was going to die.
In June, Judge Frank Remington of the Dane County Circuit Court in Wisconsin issued a summary judgment in Mr. Pozner’s favor.
“This is a victory for myself and my family,” Mr. Pozner said in an interview with The New York Times. “It is also a victory for the survivors and victims’ families of all mass casualty events who have been targeted by these people.”