After less than an hour of deliberation, a Los Angeles jury Friday found Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk did not defame a British diver by calling him a â€œpedo guyâ€� and â€œsus,â€� or suspicious, in a series of July 2018 tweets. In court on Friday, the lawyer for the diver, Vernon Unsworth, had sought $190 million in damages.
â€œMy faith in humanity is restored,â€� Musk reportedly said after the jury delivered its verdict.
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The twisty road to this weekâ€™s four-day trial in a federal courtroom began in the summer of 2018, when a Thai youth soccer team became stranded in a series of underwater caves in the countryâ€™s Chiang Rai Province. Musk tweeted that he was sending a team of engineer employees to build a miniature submarine that would rescue the children from the caves. When a reporter asked, Unsworth, a British-born cave diver based in Thailand and assisting with the rescue, about Muskâ€™s ideas, the diver called them a â€œPR stunt.â€� Musk could â€œstick his submarine where it hurts,â€� Unsworth said.
In response, Musk fired off tweets calling Unsworth a â€œpedo guyâ€� and â€œsus.â€� Though the CEO later deleted the tweets, he doubled down on the insinuation a few weeks later, writing in August that he wondered why Unsworth hadnâ€™t yet sued him if the allegations werenâ€™t true. In Septemberâ€”after, the lawsuit later revealed, Muskâ€™s family office had hired a con man to â€œinvestigateâ€� Unsworthâ€”Musk sent an email to a BuzzFeed News reporter suggesting Unsworth was a â€œchild rapist.â€�
The lawyers for Unsworth argued Muskâ€™s tweets amounted to allegations of pedophilia. In closing arguments, Unsworthâ€™s lead lawyer, L. Lin Wood, said that Musk â€œdropped a nuclear bombâ€� on the diver by tweeting those assertions to 22 million followers. Unsworthâ€™s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the verdict.
Muskâ€™s lawyers argued that the back-and-forth in the news media and online amounted to a public spat between two men, and nothing more. Muskâ€™s lead lawyer, Alex Spiro of the firm Quinn Emanuel, called the episode a â€œJDARTâ€�: â€œa joking, deleted, apologized for, responsive tweet.â€�