Salem Radio Network News Sunday, August 7, 2022

U.S.

Alex Jones defamation trial begins over Sandy Hook shooting

By Jack Queen

(Reuters) – U.S. conspiracy theorist Alex Jones faced the start of a jury trial on Tuesday 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.

Jones, founder of the Infowars radio show and webcast, had asserted the mainstream media and gun-control activists conspired to fabricate the tragedy in which 20 schoolchildren and six school staff were shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.

Mark Bankston, an attorney for the parents of slain six-year-old Jesse Lewis, told jurors the Sandy Hook hoax lie became a “viral sensation” for Infowars and Jones, who spread it to millions of people. 

“Mr. Jones was continually churning out this idea that Sandy Hook was fake,” Bankston said. “He was patient zero for the Sandy Hook hoax.”

Jones repeatedly said the shooting was staged using crisis actors but has since acknowledged it took place.

He has said he is not responsible for the families’ suffering and death threats they received as a result of his false assertions, according to court documents.

The defamation suit in Texas, where Infowars is based, is one of several brought by families of victims who say they were harassed by Jones’ followers and suffered emotional distress after he claimed the shooting was staged.

Judge Maya Guerra Gamble in Austin, Texas, who is overseeing the trial, issued a rare default judgment in 2021, finding Jones liable without a trial after he flouted court orders and failed to turn over documents.

The plaintiffs are Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, Jesse’s parents. A lawyer for Heslin and Lewis indicated in court on Monday they are seeking as much as $100 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Jones and his company Free Speech Systems LLC are the defendants in the case.

The damages trial follows months of delays. Three entities related to Infowars filed bankruptcy in a since-dismissed case. The families of the Sandy Hook victims had said the bankruptcy was a sinister attempt by Jones to shield his assets from liability stemming from the defamation lawsuits.

Jones, who was present in the courtroom, is set to face trial in September in a similar defamation suit in Connecticut state court, where he has also been found liable for defamation in a default judgment.

The Sandy Hook gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, used a Remington Bushmaster rifle to carry out the massacre. It ended when Lanza killed himself with the approach of police sirens.

(Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)

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