January 18, 2020 Real Estate Publication

Elon Musk found not liable in ‘pedo guy’ defamation trial

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

“My faith in humanity is restored,” said Musk in court after the verdict was delivered. The jury deliberated for less than three hours in the case, which started earlier this week.

Unsworth brought the suit against Musk in September 2018, after the Tesla and SpaceX CEO had called him “sus” (suspicious) and a “pedo guy” on Twitter earlier that summer. Musk also characterized the spelunker as a “child rapist” in e-mails to Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Mac, and practically requested the lawsuit in August 2018 with a tweet that said, “Don’t you think it’s strange he hasn’t sued me?”

In his testimony during the defamation trial this week, Musk apologized to Unsworth and said he did not believe the cave explorer was a pedophile.

Musk and his defense team, led by attorney Alex Spiro, argued that “pedo guy” was simply heated rhetoric and not meant as a statement of fact. They also argued that the phrase “pedo guy” is widely known as slang for “creepy old guy.” And they suggested that Unsworth was looking for a payday in court, and had not sincerely been harmed by the “pedo guy” label.

The clash between the two men began when Unsworth criticized Musk for involving himself, and his employees, in an effort to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from flooded caves in Thailand in July 2018.

Unsworth’s expertise and knowledge of the caves proved instrumental in extracting the soccer team. He is credited as being a leader of the rescue effort.

Musk and his employees developed a device that they billed as a mini-submarine or escape pod, and which they thought could transport the kids 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 device was never used in the effort, however.

Before the rescue was completed, Musk had directed employees to compel Thai officials to say nice things about him and his mini-sub, even as storms continued to bear down.

After the rescue, Unsworth was asked during a television interview on CNN about the mini-sub and Musk. He said Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts,” and viewed the escape pod as “just a PR stunt.”

Lashing back, Musk called the caver a “pedo guy” in his now infamous public tweets.

The verdict could set a precedent where free speech online, libel and slander are concerned. Vernon Unsworth vs. Elon Musk was one of the first major defamation lawsuits –brought by a private individual over a tweet– to ever go to trial.

In closing arguments, Unsworth’s attorney, L. Lin Wood, made an emotional appeal to the jury, calling Musk a “liar” while standing just a few feet away from the CEO. He also referred to Musk as “the billionaire bully,” and said that by labeling Unsworth a “pedo guy” on Twitter, where Musk had tens of millions of followers, “He dropped a nuclear bomb on Vernon Unsworth,” and the fallout would last for decades.

Wood, who is well-known for representing Richard Jewell in his defamation case (and who will be portrayed by Sam Rockwell in an upcoming film about that) sought damages of $190 million in total for Unsworth. That included: $5 million in actual damages, $35 million in assumed damages and punitive damages of $150 million. That amounts to less than a percent of Elon Musk’s estimated net worth including approximately $20 billion in SpaceX and Tesla holdings.

Musk’s lead attorney, Alex Spiro, in closing arguments characterized Musk’s offensive tweets as merely insulting and not statements of fact. Spiro also said that Unsworth was telling the court, “I’ve been horribly damaged. Pay me lots of money,” but then failed to prove he had been damaged at all. Referencing the fact that Unsworth had earned a little money for speaking engagements since the cave rescue, he asked, “You wanna award damages? How about one dollar?” And he implored the court not to engage in policing speech.

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

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

in News
Related Posts

Amazon reportedly wants to turn your hand into a credit card

January 18, 2020

January 18, 2020

People shop at the newly opened Amazon Go Store on May 07, 2019 in New York City. The cashier-less store,...

Hudson Yards haters have lost their minds — over a fake wall

January 18, 2020

January 18, 2020

Absent any sensible reason to condemn Hudson Yards, the vast project’s innumerable detractors came up with a laughably hypothetical one...

NBCUniversal revealed a critical number about Peacock that shows why media companies are walking slowly into streaming

January 18, 2020

January 18, 2020

Toward the end of NBCUniversal’s two-hour long presentation of its Peacock streaming video service Thursday, the media and entertainment company...

How hackers are making millions — legally

January 18, 2020

January 18, 2020

The term “hacker” generally brings to mind a lonesome, hooded figure, operating in the dark, stealing our money or personal...

Hot Property: French Montana looks to double his money on Hidden Hills home

January 18, 2020

January 18, 2020

Rapper French Montana is shooting for the stars in Hidden Hills. Four years after buying Selena Gomez’s Mediterranean mansion for...

Actress Bella Thorne has a thing for roses

January 18, 2020

January 18, 2020

Guests stepping into the dining room of Bella Thorne’s Sherman Oaks home might find it hard to believe the actress...

Home of the Week: King of the hill in Silver Lake

January 18, 2020

January 18, 2020

At nearly 4.5 acres, this estate is among the largest residences in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. A...

Buy these top stocks ahead of earnings, including Netflix and Guess, Wall Street analysts say

January 18, 2020

January 18, 2020

Confetti falls as Lyft CEO Logan Green (C) and President John Zimmer (LEFT C) ring the Nasdaq opening bell celebrating...

A theory on who’s doing all the buying that’s pushing stocks higher and higher

January 18, 2020

January 18, 2020

The insistent refrain “new all-time record” has been played so often recently that it sounds like a broken record. For...

Andrew Yang sounds off on ‘frothy’ private market and ‘overvalued’ stocks

January 17, 2020

January 17, 2020

Fluorescent shipping containers, billiard tables atop AstroTurf, and his signature “MATH” campaign signs plastered to the walls greeted Democratic presidential...

As stocks hit more and more records, there are signs traders may be getting way too euphoric

January 17, 2020

January 17, 2020

Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., January 15, 2020. Brendan...

Soccer star Landon Donovan’s former compound lists in Manhattan Beach

January 17, 2020

January 17, 2020

About a mile from the water in Manhattan Beach, a two-home, double-lot compound once owned by U.S. soccer star Landon...

Federal agency looking into Tesla driver complaints of sudden unintended acceleration

January 17, 2020

January 17, 2020

Tesla Model 3 Source: Tesla A division of the U.S. Department of Transportation is looking into driver complaints that Tesla...

Execs tell Congress how they’ve been burned by tech giants in a rare public rebuke

January 17, 2020

January 17, 2020

On Friday, executives from four companies aired their grievances about the Big Tech giants to Congress without the protection of...

Onetime modernist haunt of actor Jeff Chandler sells in Rancho Mirage

January 17, 2020

January 17, 2020

A Rancho Mirage home where film actor Jeff Chandler, known for his Oscar-nominated performance as Cochise in the 1950 film...