Elon Musk said “my faith in humanity is restored” after a jury took less than an hour to rule he was not liable in a defamation case involving a British cave explorer.
The Tesla co-founder went on trial after calling Vernon Unsworth “pedo guy” and “sus” (suspicious) in a Twitter spat following the July 2018 Thai cave rescue.
A federal court in California heard Mr Unsworth was left feeling “humiliated, ashamed, dirtied” by the tweet from the billionaire.
Lawyers on behalf of Mr Musk argued it was no more than a playground insult and did not represent an allegation of paedophilia.
A jury deliberated for less than an hour before agreeing with Mr Musk.
Speaking minutes after the verdict was announced, a jubilant Mr Musk said: “My faith in humanity is restored.”
A despondent Mr Unsworth was accompanied by members of his legal team as he gave his reaction to the jury’s decision and said he would “take it on the chin”.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, he said: “I respect the jury’s decision. I’d just like to say my legal team have been absolutely awesome. I came here for a verdict, unfortunately it’s not gone the way I expected but I respect the jury’s decision and thank them for that.”
Mark Stephens, Mr Unsworth’s UK lawyer, called Mr Musk a “bullying billionaire”.
He said: “We came here because Mr Musk said ‘sue or true’. We came here, we sued today, we sued this week and where we have got to is finally today Mr Spiro, with Mr Musk sitting at his side, admitted that the allegations he made were untrue.
“And it is a pity that a bullying billionaire has been able to cast such a long shadow and I just hope that nobody else has to go through and go toe-to-toe with Mr Musk again. He’s obviously put an enormous amount of resources into it.”
Lin Wood, the lawyer who represented Mr Unsworth throughout the trial, added: “Regardless of the verdict, the message is loud and clear: It was a false allegation. This is a good man.
“I’m unhappy with the verdict because I think he deserved a different brand of justice. But he had the courage to come to this country where Elon Musk lives and accept his challenge, he sued him. It’s not true.”
Both Mr Unsworth and Mr Musk, who were seated opposite each other inside court on Friday, gave evidence during the four-day trial.
Mr Unsworth, a 64-year-old financial adviser with a keen interest in caving, appeared emotional as he told of the impact Mr Musk’s July 15 2018 tweet had on his life.
Asked by his lawyer Lin Wood how he felt after seeing what Mr Musk’s tweeted, he replied: “It feels very raw. I feel humiliated. Ashamed. Dirtied.
“From day one I was given a life sentence without parole. And at times I feel very vulnerable, it hurts to even talk about it.”
Mr Unsworth, a veteran cave explorer who said he first travelled to Thailand in 2011, added Mr Musk’s tweet was “very hurtful”.
“I find it disgusting,” he said. “I find it very hard to even read the word, never mind talk about.”
Mr Unsworth first travelled to Thailand in 2011 with his girlfriend Woranan Ratrawiphukkun, known as Tik.
He said as a result of Musk’s tweet, his name is “tagged with being a paedophile”.
Mr Musk insisted the phrase “pedo guy” was commonly used in his native South Africa and meant “creepy old guy” and not that Mr Unsworth was a paedophile.
His lawyer, Alex Spiro, said if people had received “pedo guy” as an allegation, Mr Unsworth would have been shunned by society, instead of meeting politicians, invited to speak at events and awarded an MBE.
Instead, there has been “not one” person to say they interpreted Mr Musk’s tweet as an allegation, Mr Spiro said.
“This was obviously an opinion, an insult, not a statement accusing you of a crime. No responsible reader would conclude you were accused of a sexual act of a child.”
“It was a jape,” Mr Spiro added.