Briana Sanchez/US Statesman from Austin via AP, Pool
WATERBURY, Conn. — A Connecticut jury began hearing arguments Tuesday in a trial to decide how much money conspiracy theorist Alex Jones should pay relatives of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting for spreading a lie that the massacre was a hoax.
The trial is taking place in Waterbury, less than 20 miles from Newtown, where 26 children and teachers were gunned down in 2012.
More than a dozen family members, including relatives of some of the victims, came to the courtroom to listen to opening statements and the first day of testimony.
This is the second such trial for Jones, who was ordered by a Texas jury last month to pay nearly $50 million to the parents of one of the children killed.
A jury of three men and three women as well as several alternates will decide how many conspiracy theorist should pay relatives of eight victims and an FBI agent who responded to the school. Judge Barbara Bellis found Responsible Jones without a trial last year after failing to turn over documents to the families’ lawyers.
On Tuesday, she disciplined Jones for failing to provide analytics data related to her website and her show’s popularity. She told her lawyers that because of this failure, they would not be allowed to argue that he had not taken advantage of her Sandy Hook remarks.
Jones did not attend the opening of the trial on Tuesday. He said on his show Monday that he will be visiting Connecticut next week.
The trial is expected to last about a month and feature testimony from Jones and the families.
Bellis told the jury that Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, had already been found liable for damages to plaintiffs for calling the shooting a hoax on multiple media platforms and saying no one died.
The Sandy Hook families and former FBI agent William Aldenberg say they were confronted and harassed for years by people who believed Jones’ false claim that the shooting was staged by crisis actors in part of a plot to take away people’s guns.
Some say unknown people filmed them and their surviving children. They also faced death threats and abusive comments on social media. And some families left Newtown to avoid harassment. They accuse Jones of causing them emotional and psychological damage.
Jones, whose Infowars web show and brand is based in Austin, Texas, was banned from YouTube, Facebook and Spotify for violating hate speech policies.
Jones now says he believes the shooting was real. At the trial in Texas, he testified that he realized what he said was irresponsible, that he hurt people’s feelings, and that he apologized.
However, he continues to insist that his comments were protected by free speech. He views the lawsuits as efforts to silence him and bankrupt him.
Jones’ attorneys say he intends to appeal the judgment against him in Texas. Jones will also face a third lawsuit in Texas involving the parents of another child who was killed.