Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones will be back on trial Tuesday, facing more family members of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, weeks after a Texas jury determined he and his company should have to pay one student’s parents nearly $50 million for defaming the student’s father and inflicting emotional distress on both parents.
A Connecticut jury of three men and three women will now determine how much Jones and his company Free Speech Systems (FSS) will have to pay other families of more students and employees killed in the 2012 shooting, which Jones and his colleagues told their audience was a hoax.
Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ruled in November 2021 that Jones and FSS were liable for defaming the 15 plaintiffs in this trial mainly because Jones and his company failed to cooperate in turning over documents in the discovery process.
Plaintiffs in three lawsuits against Jones and FSS, including family members of eight school students and employees and one FBI agent who responded to the scene, have all been condensed into the trial that starts this week.
Several of the family members are expected to be in the courtroom for the trial and testify in the case, according to Chris Mattei, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Jones is also expected to testify at some point, but it is unclear whether he will be present in the courtroom for the duration of the trial.
The plaintiffs allege their reputations have been damaged and they’ve endured years of emotional distress from harassment and public contempt as a result of Jones’ coverage of the shooting, according to court documents.
They also say Jones and FSS violated the state’s Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) having profited from pushing his narrative that the shooting was a hoax.
Connecticut law typically limits punitive damages in a civil trial to the cost of legal fees and trial costs but Judge Bellis could rule that the plaintiffs are entitled to more in connection to the CUTPA claim.
Though the Texas jury determined Jones and his company should pay the plaintiffs in that trial nearly $50 million in punitive and compensatory damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, Jones’ attorney objected to the punitive damages award under Texas state law, which caps punitive damages. The ultimate award amount in that case has yet to be determined by the court and attorneys for Jones have indicated that they will appeal.
One of the plaintiffs in that trial, Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse was only six when he was killed, spoke directly to Jones while she testified.
“In some way you’ve impacted every single day of my life negatively since — almost since Jesse was murdered. Since 2013 when your videos were going around,” Lewis said.
“This isn’t staged like one of your people said. This is a real event. It seems so incredible to me that we have to do this, that we have to implore you — not just implore you, punish you to get you to stop lying, saying it’s a hoax. It happened. It’s like surreal what’s going on.”
In a deposition for one of the lawsuits, Jones acknowledged the shooting was real, and blamed his claims that it was a hoax on “psychosis.”
“I never intentionally tried to hurt you. I never even said your name until this case came to court. I didn’t even know who you were until a couple of years ago when all this started up. The internet had a lot of questions. I had questions,” Jones said while on the witness stand in the Texas trial last month. “And that’s really been my big frustration is that people have said that I’m personally trying to hurt them or coming after when I question every big event.”
What Jones can’t say at trial
During a nearly three-hour pretrial hearing last week Judge Bellis ruled on several topics Jones and his legal team can and cannot talk about in front of the jury, often referencing hot-button moments from the widely-publicized Texas trial.
“I’m not going to have those kinds of problems. This is a different courtroom, different law, different everything,” Judge Bellis said, referencing the judge in the Texas case having reprimanded Jones several times for making improper or false claims in front of the jury.
Bellis also said that she will question Jones outside the presence of the jury before he testifies in Connecticut to confirm he understands the parameters of her orders.
“I am not going to have a situation where we now have to go off course from the middle of the trial and I have to deal with a contempt of court situation with your client where he’s blatantly disregarding an order,” Judge Bellis told Jones’ attorney.
“If he needs to write it out 10 times over and over again until he understands it, then that’s what he needs to do,” Bellis said.
Jones’ defense cannot assert to the jury that being held accountable for damages in this trial is unfair or violates Jones’ First Amendment rights, Bellis ruled.
“There will be no evidence or argument that the Jones defendants satisfied their discovery obligations by making substantial production nor can they attack at the trial court level during the jury trial, that the decision was unfair,” Bellis said.
The judge also ruled that jurors cannot hear about a $73 million settlement struck in February between major gun manufacturer Remington and some plaintiffs from this trial, a point Jones’ attorney wanted to bring up at trial.
Against defense objections, Judge Bellis also said she will allow testimony from an expert witness for the plaintiffs about Jones’ audience and the political leanings and behavioral patterns that could have led some members of that audience to buy into Jones’ conspiracy theory that the 2012 elementary school shooting wasn’t real.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to one of the plaintiffs as a former FBI agent. The plaintiff, William Aldenberg, remains with the FBI.