A jury on Friday decided Elon Musk didn't defraud investors with his 2018 tweets about electric automaker Tesla in a proposed deal that quickly unraveled and raised questions about whether the billionaire had misled investors. The nine-member jury reached its verdict after less than two hours of deliberation following a three-week trial. It represents a major vindication for Musk, who spent about eight hours on the witness stand defending his motives for the August 2018 tweets at the center of the trial, per the AP. Musk, 51, wasn't on hand for the brief reading of the verdict, but he made a surprise appearance earlier Friday for closing arguments that drew starkly different portraits of him. Musk's decision to sit in on the closing arguments even though he didn't have to be there may have had an impact on the jurors, said Michael Freedman, a former federal prosecutor.
"It shows he has a presence," Freedman said. The trial pitted Tesla investors represented in a class-action lawsuit against Musk, who's CEO of both the electric automaker and the Twitter service he bought for $44 billion a few months ago. Shortly before boarding his private jet on Aug. 7, 2018, Musk tweeted that he had the financing to take Tesla private, even though it turned out he hadn't gotten an iron-clad commitment for a deal that would have cost $20 billion to $70 billion to pull off. A few hours later, Musk sent another tweet indicating the deal was imminent. During roughly eight hours on the stand earlier in the trial, Musk insisted he believed he'd lined up the funds from Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund to take Tesla private after eight years as a publicly held company.
He defended his initial August 2018 tweet as well-intentioned and aimed at ensuring all Tesla investors knew the automaker might be on its way to ending its run as a publicly held company. "I had no ill motive," Musk testified. "My intent was to do the right thing for all shareholders." Alex Spiro, Musk's attorney, conceded the 2018 tweets were "technically inaccurate." But he told the jurors, "Just because it's a bad tweet doesn't make it a fraud." Following the verdict, Nicholas Porritt, an attorney who represented aggrieved Tesla investors, said he was disappointed after urging the jurors in his closing arguments to rebuke Musk for reckless behavior that threatened to create "anarchy." "I don't think this is the kind of conduct we expect from a large public company," Porritt said.
During a discussion with Porritt, a few jurors told them they found Musk's testimony that he believed he'd lined up the money from Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund without a written commitment to be credible. They also expressed doubt about whether Musk's tweeting was the sole reason for the swings in Tesla's stock price during a 10-day period in August 2018 covered in the case. Musk could've been saddled with a bill for billions of dollars in damages had the jury found him liable for the 2018 tweets that had already been deemed falsehoods by the judge presiding over the trial. Not long after the verdict came down, Musk took to Twitter—the bully pulpit he now owns—to celebrate. "Thank goodness, the wisdom of the people has prevailed!" Musk tweeted.
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