© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Alex Jones talks to media during a midday break during the start of a jury trial that will decide how much he must pay the family of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre that he falsely claimed was a hoax, at the Travis County Courth
By Jack Queen
WATERBURY, Conn. (Reuters) – A lawyer for families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting told a Connecticut jury on Tuesday that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones will never stop profiting off destructive falsehoods unless he pays for the lies he told about the massacre.
The lawyer, Christopher Mattei, made his assessment during opening statements at a trial being held in a state court about 20 miles (32 km) from where 20 children and six staff members were killed on Dec. 14, 2012, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Jurors will decide how much in damages Jones owes 14 family members of victims for claiming the massacre was a hoax.
Jones’ trial in Waterbury, Connecticut, comes one month after a jury in Austin, Texas, awarded two parents $49.3 million in a similar case. Infowars is based in Texas.
Mattei told jurors it was important to stop Jones and his right-wing Infowars brand from “preying on people who are helpless” and encouraging years of harassment from Jones’ followers.
He said Infowars drew millions of followers with bogus claims about Sandy Hook, and made as much as $800,000 a day selling supplements, doomsday supplies and other products.
Jones’ lawyer Norman Pattis countered during his opening statement that the families were “exaggerating their harm for political reasons” and viewing a big damages award as a “weapon” to silence Infowars.
“We’re going to ask you to disarm them,” Pattis told jurors.
Jones did not attend the start of the trial, which is expected to last five weeks, but Pattis said he will testify.
The family members sued Jones and Infowars parent Free Speech Systems LLC in 2018.
They said the harassment was conducted by people who believed Jones’ false claims that the government staged the Sandy Hook shooting with crisis actors as a pretext for seizing guns, and that the families faked their children’s deaths.
Adam Lanza, the gunman, used a Remington Bushmaster rifle as he shot his way into the school, after shooting his mother to death at home. The massacre ended when Lanza killed himself as he heard approaching police sirens.
Jones has since acknowledged that the shooting took place.
Jurors are required solely to determine how much Jones and Free Speech Systems must pay for spreading lies about the massacre. A judge issued a default judgment in the case in November after Jones failed to comply with court orders.
Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy in July. That would typically shield the company from lawsuits, but it agreed to face trial in August.
The $49.3 million award in Austin could be reduced substantially because it consists mostly of non-economic damages intended to punish Jones for his conduct.
A lawyer for Jones has said he will seek to reduce the $45.2 million punitive damages component to $1.5 million, citing a Texas law imposing a cap. Lawyers for the parents have said that the cap does not apply and Jones should pay the full amount.