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 “pedo guy” and “sus,” 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.
“My faith in humanity is restored,” Musk reportedly said after the jury delivered its verdict.
The twisty road to this week’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 country’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 Musk’s ideas, the diver called them a “PR stunt.” Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts,” Unsworth said.
In response, Musk fired off tweets calling Unsworth a “pedo guy” and “sus.” 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 hadn’t yet sued him if the allegations weren’t true. In September—after, the lawsuit later revealed, Musk’s family office had hired a con man to “investigate” Unsworth—Musk sent an email to a BuzzFeed News reporter suggesting Unsworth was a “child rapist.”
The lawyers for Unsworth argued Musk’s tweets amounted to allegations of pedophilia. In closing arguments, Unsworth’s lead lawyer, L. Lin Wood, said that Musk “dropped a nuclear bomb” on the diver by tweeting those assertions to 22 million followers. Unsworth’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the verdict.
Musk’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. Musk’s lead lawyer, Alex Spiro of the firm Quinn Emanuel, called the episode a “JDART”: “a joking, deleted, apologized for, responsive tweet.”
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