Elon Musk not liable in Vern Unsworth ‘pedo guy’ defamation trial

A jury determined that Elon Musk had not defamed British caver Vernon Unsworth in a Los Angeles federal courtroom on Friday.

“My faith in humanity is restored,” mentioned Musk in courtroom after the decision was delivered. The jury deliberated for less than an hour earlier than delivering its verdict within the case, which went to trial earlier this week.

Unsworth introduced the go well with towards Musk in September 2018, after the Tesla and SpaceX CEO had known as him “sus” (suspicious) and a “pedo guy” on Twitter earlier that summer season. Musk additionally characterised the spelunker as a “child rapist” in e-mails to Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Mac, and virtually requested the lawsuit in August 2018 with a tweet that mentioned, “Don’t you think it’s strange he hasn’t sued me?”

In his testimony throughout the defamation trial this week, Musk apologized to Unsworth and mentioned he didn’t consider the cave explorer was a pedophile.

Musk and his protection workforce, led by legal professional Alex Spiro, argued that “pedo guy” was merely heated rhetoric and never meant as a press release of reality. They additionally argued that the phrase “pedo guy” is broadly generally known as slang for “creepy old guy.” And they urged that Unsworth was searching for a payday in courtroom, and had not sincerely been harmed by the “pedo guy” label.

The conflict between the 2 males started when Unsworth criticized Musk for involving himself, and his workers, in an effort to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from flooded caves in Thailand in July 2018.

Unsworth’s experience and information of the caves proved instrumental in extracting the soccer workforce. He is credited as being a frontrunner of the rescue effort.

Musk and his workers developed a tool that they billed as a mini-submarine or escape pod, and which they thought may transport the children out of the caves. On July 8, 2018, Musk wrote in a tweet, “Mini-sub arriving in about 17 hours. Hopefully useful. If not, perhaps it will be in a future situation.” The gadget was by no means used within the effort, nevertheless.

Before the rescue was accomplished, Musk had directed workers to compel Thai officers to say good issues about him and his mini-sub, whilst storms continued to bear down.

After the rescue, Unsworth was requested throughout a tv interview on CNN concerning the mini-sub and Musk. He mentioned Musk may “stick his submarine where it hurts,” and considered the escape pod as “only a PR stunt.”

Lashing again, Musk known as the caver a “pedo guy” in his now notorious public tweets.

The verdict may set a precedent the place free speech on-line, libel and slander are involved. Vernon Unsworth vs. Elon Musk was one of many first main defamation lawsuits –brought by a personal particular person over a tweet– to ever go to trial.

In closing arguments, Unsworth’s legal professional, L. Lin Wood, made an emotional attraction to the jury, calling Musk a “liar” whereas standing only a few toes away from the CEO. He additionally referred to Musk as “the billionaire bully,” and mentioned that by labeling Unsworth a “pedo guy” on Twitter, the place Musk had tens of hundreds of thousands of followers, “He dropped a nuclear bomb on Vernon Unsworth,” and the fallout would final for many years.

Wood, who’s well-known for representing Richard Jewell in his defamation case (and who will probably be portrayed by Sam Rockwell in an upcoming movie about that) sought damages of $190 million in whole for Unsworth. That included: $5 million in precise damages, $35 million in assumed damages and punitive damages of $150 million. That quantities to lower than a p.c of Elon Musk’s estimated net worth together with roughly $20 billion in SpaceX and Tesla holdings.

Musk’s lead legal professional, Alex Spiro, in closing arguments characterised Musk’s offensive tweets as merely insulting and never statements of reality. Spiro additionally mentioned that Unsworth was telling the courtroom, “I’ve been horribly damaged. Pay me lots of money,” however then did not show he had been broken in any respect. Referencing the truth that Unsworth had earned a little bit cash for talking engagements because the cave rescue, he requested, “You wanna award damages? How about one dollar?” And he implored the courtroom to not have interaction in policing speech.

— CNBC correspondents Jane Wells and Paul McNamara contributed to this report.

Follow @CNBCtech on Twitter for the latest tech industry news.

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