WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) — Alex Jones was portrayed Tuesday by a lawyer for Sandy Hook families as a bully and by his own attorney as a crank in a town square who should be ignored as a trial got underway to determine how much the conspiracy theorist should pay the relatives for spreading the lie that the 2012 Newtown school shooting was a hoax.
The trial is being held in Waterbury, Connecticut, less than 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Newtown, where 26 children and teachers were shot to death.
It’s 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 slain children. Jones was not at the trial Tuesday and is expected to attend next week.
A jury of three men and three women along with several alternates will decide how much Jones should pay relatives of eight victims and an FBI agent who responded to the school. Judge Barbara Bellis found Jones liable without a trial last year after he failed to turn over documents to the families' lawyers.
More than a dozen family members, including parents of some victims, filed into the courtroom to listen to the opening statements and first day of evidence.
Christopher Mattei, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, showed jurors data indicating how Jones' audience increased as he spread lies about the shooting. He showed them photos and videos of things Jones had said and told the panel they already had the tools from their own life experiences to decide what to do in this case.
“What your parents taught you, what your grandparents taught you to know the difference between right and wrong, to know the difference between the truth and a horrible lie, to know the importance of standing up to bullies when they prey on people who are helpless and profit from them and to know unless you stop a bully, a bully will never stop,” he said. “And when it comes to stopping Alex Jones, that will be the most important work that you do.”
Jones' attorney, Norm Pattis, argued that his client has espoused a number of conspiracy theories over the years, something he has a Constitutional right to do.
“At what point do we regard him as a crank on the village green, a person we can walk away from if we choose?” he asked.
Pattis told the jury that although Jones is liable for damages, any award should be minimal and alleged the families were overstating the harm they say Jones caused them.
On his Infowars web show on Tuesday, Jones portrayed himself as the victim of unfair show trials.
“How am I handling it? We’re at war. This is total tyranny,” he said. “I’ll tell you this, we can appeal this for years. We can beat this. We can stay on air through everything they’re doing if we keep fighting and don’t give up. But it takes massive money to fight three lawsuits in Texas and in Connecticut.”
Judge Bellis sanctioned Jones Tuesday for failing to turn over analytic data related to his website and the popularity of his show. She told his lawyers that because of that failure, they will not be allowed to argue he didn’t profit from his Sandy Hook remarks.
The trial is expected to last about a month and feature testimony from both Jones and the families.
Bellis instructed the jury that Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, have already been found liable for damages to the plaintiffs for calling the shooting a hoax on multiple media platforms and saying that no one died.
The Sandy Hook families and former FBI agent William Aldenberg say they have been confronted and harassed for years by people who believed Jones’ false claim that the shooting was staged by crisis actors as part of a plot to take away people's guns.
Some say strangers have videotaped them and their surviving children. They’ve also endured death threats and been subjected to abusive comments on social media. And some families have moved out of Newtown to avoid harassment. They accuse Jones of causing them emotional and psychological harm.
Aldenberg was the first witness to take the stand Tuesday, describing his response to the school after the shooting and becoming overwhelmed with emotion at times.
Jones, whose web show and Infowars brand are based in Austin, Texas, has been banned from YouTube, Facebook and Spotify for violating hate-speech policies.
Jones now says he believes the shooting was real. At the Texas trial, he testified that he realizes what he said was irresponsible, did hurt people’s feelings and he apologized.
He continues, however, to insist that his comments were protected free speech. He views the lawsuits as efforts to silence him and put him out of business.
Jones’ lawyers say he intends to appeal the judgment against him in Texas. Jones also will face a third trial back in Texas involving the parents of another slain child.
Associated Press writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this story from Hartford, Connecticut.