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Jury awards Hulk Hogan millions more in punitive damages in sex tape trial: $140.1 million total

ST. PETERSBURG — Closing one chapter of former wrestler Hulk Hogan's nearly four-year legal battle, jurors on Monday ordered Gawker Media and other defendants to pay him $25 million in punitive damages for publishing a sex tape of him.

The decision came days after the same jury gave Hogan, whose real name is Terry G. Bollea, an award of $115 million in compensatory damages for having his privacy violated. Taken together, the total figure could be debilitating for the New York-based media company.

Exiting the courthouse Monday, the 62-year-old former wrestler said he felt "great."

"We made history today," he said. "I think we protected a lot of people from maybe going through what I went through."

On Monday, Gawker attorney Michael Berry implored jurors not to raise their original award any higher, telling them: "$115 million is punishment enough."

"The amount you have rendered in your verdict is already far beyond their means," he said.

But after nearly four hours of deliberation, the six-person jury of four women and two men rejected his pleas and heaped more punishment on Gawker, its founder Nick Denton, 49, and former Gawker.com editor-in-chief A.J. Daulerio, 41. Gawker Media was ordered to pay $15 million and Denton was ordered to pay $10 million.

Informed that Daulerio has no assets and owes $27,000 in student loans, jurors still chose to assess him $100,000.

Gawker Media does not have $115 million, and it's possible it never will. The company, which includes seven different websites, had a net worth of $83 million in 2015.

Denton has already said he plans to appeal the jury's decision, and many legal experts believe Gawker's case, which relies on a First Amendment free speech defense, will prevail before a higher court.

"Soon after Hulk Hogan brought his original lawsuits in 2012, three state appeals court judges and a federal judge repeatedly ruled that Gawker's post was newsworthy under the First Amendment," Gawker Media president and general counsel Heather Dietrick said in a statement. "We expect that to happen again."

Florida law does require Gawker to post a bond, capped at $50 million, while it appeals the verdict. But even that figure could be up for debate — the company plans to challenge the bond if it's set high.

In 2012, Daulerio got his hands on a roughly 30-minute video featuring Bollea having sex with the wife of a friend, Tampa DJ Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. After editing it down to one minute and 41 seconds, Daulerio posted the excerpts online, along with a critique of the Bollea's performance.

Weeks later, Bollea sued Gawker and Clem, claiming he was unaware he was being filmed. On Monday, his attorneys encouraged the jury to "send a message" with their verdict.

In court, Gawker's attorneys argued that Bollea had talked about his sex life publicly, on TV and radio shows with large audiences, and had made it a matter of public interest.

But that argument didn't sway the jury, said Salina Stevens, 35, of St. Petersburg, a juror in the case.

"When we actually watched the video, that changed the game," she said, adding that it seemed clear to her from the recorded conversation that Bollea didn't know he was on camera.

"I understand that we have a First Amendment, and I stand behind the First Amendment," she said. "We also have privacy laws and I hope that will be taken into consideration."

Times staff writer Katie E. Mettler contributed to this report. Contact Anna M. Phillips at aphillips@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.

Jury awards Hulk Hogan millions more in punitive damages in sex tape trial: $140.1 million total 03/21/16 [Last modified: Monday, March 21, 2016 10:00pm]
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