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UPDATE 1-Alex Jones saw profit in Sandy Hook hoax claims, victims' lawyer says at trial

UPDATE 1-Alex Jones saw profit in Sandy Hook hoax claims, victims' lawyer says at trial

Reuters · 09/13/2022 12:53
UPDATE 1-Alex Jones saw profit in Sandy Hook hoax claims, victims' lawyer says at trial

Adds opening statement from plaintiffs' lawyer, WATERBURY, Conn., dateline

By Jack Queen

- A lawyer for families of children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting told a Connecticut jury on Tuesday that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones will stop profiting off destructive falsehoods unless he pays for the lies he told about the massacre.

The lawyer, Christopher Mattei, made his assessment during opening arguments at a trial where jurors will decide how much in damages Jones owes 14 family members of victims for claiming the massacre was a hoax.

Jones' trial came one month after a jury in Austin, Texas, awarded two parents $49.3 million in a similar case.

Mattei told jurors it was important to stop Jones and his right-wing Infowars brand from "preying on people who are helpless" and encouraging years of harassment from Jones' followers.

"They knew the harassment was happening, but the lies were too profitable," Mattei said.

The family members sued Jones and Infowars parent Free Speech Systems LLC in 2018.

They said the harassment was conducted by people who believed Jones' false claims that government staged the Sandy Hook shooting with crisis actors as a pretext for seizing guns, and that the families faked their children's deaths.

Jones has since acknowledged that the shooting took place.

The trial is being held in a state court in Waterbury, Connecticut, about 20 miles (32 km) from Sandy Hook, and is expected to last five weeks.

Jurors are required solely to determine how much Jones and Free Speech Systems must pay for spreading lies about the killing of 20 children and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Adam Lanza, the gunman, used a Remington Bushmaster rifle as he shot his way into the school, after shooting his mother to death at home. The massacre ended when Lanza killed himself as he heard approaching police sirens.

A judge issued a default judgment in the case in November after Jones failed to comply with court orders.

Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy in July. That would typically shield the company from lawsuits, but it agreed to face trial in August.

The $49.3 million award in Austin, where Infowars is based, could be reduced substantially because it consists mostly of -economic damages intended to punish Jones for his conduct.

A lawyer for Jones has said he will seek to reduce the $45.2 million punitive damages component to $1.5 million, citing a Texas law imposing a cap. Lawyers for the parents have said the cap does apply and Jones should pay the full amount.

(Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Mark Porter and Jonathan Oatis)