Thu, Oct 6, 2022 1:52 PM
By DAVE COLLINS and PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) — A jury began deliberations Thursday to decide how much conspiracy theorist Alex Jones should pay for pushing the lie that the 2012 Sandy Hook School massacre was a hoax.
A lawyer for the families of eight people killed and an FBI agent who responded to the mass shooting told jurors in closing arguments that Jones started lying about the shooting the day it happened and provided the machinery that allowed that lie to spread.
Jones' attorney countered by telling the jury his client didn't “invent the Internet” and argued jurors should not award excessive damages just because they are angry about the harassment the families went through at the hands of others who also believed the lie that the shooting was a hoax.
The attorneys presented closing arguments in the trial to determine how much Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, should pay for representing to the audience of his Infowars show that the shooting at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax staged to impose more gun control laws.
The six-person jury, comprised of three men and three women, began deliberations late in the day, charged with completing a form that will detail a dollar amount each of the 15 plaintiffs should receive.
Before deliberations, the judge didn’t give jurors explicit instructions on how to arrive at dollar figures for the damages. She told them to use their life experiences and common sense in determining damages that are “fair, just and reasonable.”
In closings, plaintiff attorney Christopher Mattei told the jury that it was because of Jones and his massive Infowars platform that the families have been subjected to a decade of torment at the hands of conspiracy theorists.
“As soon as he did it, everyone else came coming in over him,” Mattei said. “The threats, the harassment, the fear, the allegations of actors, when every single one of these families were drowning in grief. And Alex Jones put his foot right on top.”
Defense attorney Norm Pattis opened his arguments with a 19-minute video from a 2018 episode of Jones’ Infowars show in which the Jones accuses the media of misrepresenting his position for “questioning” Sandy Hook and bringing it up long after he acknowledged the shooting happened.
“It’s edited and then it’s brought back up as if I’m bringing it back up,” Jones says in the video.
Mattei suggested the jury should award the plaintiffs at least $550 million, telling them Jones will spread lies about other shootings and other families if they don’t make him understand the harm his comments caused. Mattei tied that dollar amount to the estimated 550 million views of the Sandy Hook content on Jones and Infowars' social media accounts from 2012 to 2018 — an estimate provided by a plaintiffs' expert witness who said he reviewed the content.
“It is your job to make sure he understands the extent of the wreckage that he caused,” Mattei said. “Because you know damn well he doesn’t get it.”
Another plaintiff attorney, Joshua Koskoff, told the jury that lies like the ones Jones tells, get people killed.
“We don’t know when, but it is going to happen at some point,” he said.
Since the trial began Sept. 13, testimony has mostly centered on the relatives and the FBI agent who say they've been harassed for a decade by people who believed Jones’ claims that the shooting never happened, and that the parents of the 20 slain children were “crisis actors.”
The plaintiffs said they have received death and rape threats, mail from conspiracy theorists that included photos of dead children, and had in-person confrontations with hoax believers. They sued Jones for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violating Connecticut’s unfair trade practices law by profiting off the hoax lies.
Pattis noted the plaintiffs' lawyers did not show monetary harm to the families, “no doctor's bills reports, very few mentions of treatment.” He told the jurors that punitive damages are by law limited to attorneys fees and they should not confuse those with compensatory damages, which should be for losses caused by Jones.
“This is not an action to compensate the folks at Sandy Hook for the loss of their children,” he said. “Alex Jones is not (shooter) Adam Lanza.”
Jones, whose show and Infowars brand are based in Austin, Texas, was found liable for defaming the plaintiffs last year. In an unusual ruling, Judge Barbara Bellis said Jones had forfeited his right to a trial as a consequence of repeated violations of court orders and failures to turn over documents to the plaintiffs' lawyers.
Jones did take the stand for a contentious day of testimony earlier in the trial, saying he was “done saying I’m sorry” for calling the school shooting a hoax. However, he declined to put on a defense Wednesday, and his lawyers rested with putting on evidence or witnesses.
Outside the courthouse and on his show, Jones has repeatedly bashed the trial as a “kangaroo court” and an effort to put him out of business. He has cited free speech rights, but he and his lawyer were not allowed to make that argument during the trial because he already had been found liable. His show is also broadcast on many radio stations.
Koskoff pointed out the Jones was not in court to hear any of the families' testimony, and called him a “coward.”
Pattis has suggested the relatives were exaggerating their claims of being harmed and falsely placed the blame for that harm on Jones.
“Alex invented fear, Alex invented anger, Alex invented what's wrong with this world,” Pattis said. “Kill Alex and we'll all live happily ever after. Do you believe that for one moment?”
In a similar trial in Texas in August, a jury ordered Jones to pay nearly $50 million in damages to the parents of one of the children killed in the shooting, because of the hoax lies. A third such trial, also in Texas, involving two other parents is expected to begin near the end of the year.
Jones has said he expects the cases to be tied up in appeals for the next two years and has asked his audience to help him raise $500,000 to pay for his legal expenses. Free Speech Systems, meanwhile, is seeking bankruptcy protection.