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Updated: 6th February 2020 15:47 World

Jury finds Elon Musk did not defame U.K. diver with 'pedo guy' tweet

Elon Musk did not defame a British cave explorer when he called him "pedo guy" in an angry tweet, a Los Angeles jury found Friday.

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Vernon Unsworth sought $190M in damages over social media spat with Tesla CEO

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk leaves the United States Courthouse in Los Angeles, Calif., on Tuesday. (Christian Monterrosa/EPA-EFE)

Elon Musk did not defame a British cave explorer when he called him "pedo guy" in an angry tweet, a Los Angeles jury found Friday.

Vernon Unsworth, who participated in the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped for weeks in a Thailand cave last year, had angered the Tesla CEO by belittling his effort to help with the rescue as a "PR stunt."

Musk said the attack was unprovoked and he only meant the term as an insult for "creepy old man" and wasn't literally calling Unsworth a pedophile.

Unsworth's attorney suggested to a federal jury Friday that it award $190 million US in damages. 

Attorney Lin Wood said that would include $150 million US as a "hard slap on the wrist" to punish the Tesla CEO for what, Wood said, was akin to dropping an atomic weapon on his client.

"What in the world would it take to discourage Elon Musk from ever planting a nuclear bomb in the life of another person?" Wood said.

British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth stands outside the U.S. District Court on Friday in Los Angeles. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

Musk, who testified his stock in Tesla and SpaceX is worth about $20 billion US, contends that he was not literally calling Vernon Unsworth a pedophile when he referred to him as "pedo guy" on Twitter.

Musk's lawyer told the jury the tweet was an insult provoked by Unsworth and did not rise to the level of defamation. Attorney Alex Spiro said Unsworth also failed to show actual damages.

A jury of five women and three men deliberated for less than an hour in the afternoon in U.S. District Court.

Unsworth had ridiculed Musk's effort to help in the rescue by having engineers at his companies, including SpaceX and The Boring Co., develop a mini-submarine to transport the boys. Despite working around the clock to build the sub, Musk arrived in Thailand late in the rescue effort and the craft was never used.

Unsworth called it nothing more than a "PR stunt" and said Musk could stick the sub "where it hurts."

In his closing argument, Wood called Musk a "billionaire bully" who lied when he claimed "pedo guy" only means "creepy old man" and said his apologies to Unsworth were insincere.

"When Elon Musk tweets something it goes around the world," Wood said. "It can never be deleted."

Unsworth testified that he had to sue Musk for defamation because if he didn't, the allegation would seem true.

In his testimony, Musk insisted that the phrase he tweeted off-the-cuff "was obviously a flippant insult, and no one interpreted it to mean pedophile."

Spiro mocked Unsworth's claims that he had been shamed and humiliated and that the tweet effectively sentenced him to a life sentence without parole.

Spiro noted that Unsworth had been honoured by Queen Elizabeth and the king of Thailand, had his photo taken next to British Prime Minister Theresa May and been asked to speak at schools and contribute to a children's book, which showed that no one took Musk's insult seriously.

"People accused of pedophilia don't get celebrated by world leaders," Spiro said. "Kings and queens and prime ministers don't stand next to pedophiles."

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