So far, conspiracy theorist and broadcaster Alex Jones has been the main attraction at his defamation trial at Superior Court in Waterbury — inside on the witness stand and outside on the sidewalk where he has called the trial a kangaroo court. He will be at center stage again this week when he returns for a second appearance.
The first time around, he appeared as a witness called by the 14 Sandy Hook relatives and one first responder suing him for a decade of abuse they claim is the result of his promotion of the lie that the elementary school massacre was a hoax contrived to win support for gun control.
This week, he may be the trial’s last witness, testifying in his own behalf. Under an unusual, punitive ruling against him by the presiding judge, Jones will be able to do little more than urge the jury to limit the tens of millions of dollars the victims are seeking in damages, while, at the same time, opening himself to another withering examination by their lawyers.
Judge Barbara Bellis’ default ruling sanctions Jones for failing to participate in reciprocal exchanges of information with the victims in the run-up to trial. It settled the trial in favor of the victim families on the central point of their suit — that Jones’ false broadcasts were the cause of the harassment and mental anguish they have suffered through.
Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, have been prohibited from defending themselves under the default, but can try to minimize what they have to pay in compensatory and punitive damages.
The default ruling made the first 11 days of trial — which the judge has said is proceeding ahead of schedule — a one-sided fight. This week, perhaps the trial’s last, is not expected to be much different.
How soon it ends could depend on who, if anyone, the families decide to call as witnesses from a the list of experts their lawyers have filed with the court. Included on the list is an expert on extremism and a forensic accountant who could talk about allegations Jones is using the bankruptcy court to shelter assets.
Twenty first graders and six educators died in Newtown in Connecticut’s worst mass killing on Dec. 14, 2012, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza blasted his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School with an assault rifle his mother gave him.
The families of nine victims and an FBI agent are accusing Jones of defamation, causing them to suffer emotional trauma and, significantly, violating the state unfair trade practices law. If the families can persuade the jury that Jones spread lies and fears for profit, it could find him liable under the trade practices law, which puts no ceiling on damages.
To date, using internal company communications and records they were able to obtain from Jones about traffic and sales on his sophisticated array of internet sites, the victims presented evidence to jurors suggesting that Jones learned soon after the school shootings that broadcasts of Sandy Hook hoax programing caused his audience and sales to spike, and he exploited it.’
The family lawyers also showed jurors clips from several years of broadcasts in which Jones and at least one of his guests repeated a bizarre set of claims to his audience of tens of millions: They said the school was a “toxic” waste site closed years before the shootings and it was reopened by a cabal of global conspirators in 2012 to serve as a theatrical set where actors staged a phony mass murder as part of a plot to disarm the American people.
A dozen or so relatives of victims have testified so far about being threatened, stalked and tormented by people who have become aggressive advocates for Jones’s conspiracy theory. The testimony at times has been gripping and emotional, as parents and siblings described being harassed after their lawyers play clips of a ranting Jones claiming they were actors and the murders were staged.
A father testified that his wife was so overcome by the twin traumas of their daughter’s murder and abuse by those who agree with Jones that he discovered her cowering in a closet as her child’s funeral was to begin. The father recounted how a Sandy Hook denier recognized him in Seattle, four years after the shooting, and chased him down a street while shouting epithets.
There are relatives who are parties to the suit who have yet to testify.
The family attorneys, with the firm Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder, will also have to decide whether to present expert testimony. One of the experts on their list of potential witnesses tracked Jones for years for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has featured Jones on its publication, “HATEWATCH.”
The family list of experts also includes a forensic accountant with global firm who could testify about claims raised in Texas by Sandy Hook families that for a year, beginning when Bellis entered the default order, Jones has been transferring as much as tens of thousands of dollars a week to an affiliated company in an attempt to shelter the money from judgments in defamation suits.
The Waterbury suit is one of three by Sandy Hook families against Jones. A Texas jury awarded two Sandy Hook parents a verdict of about $50 million in August in a similar suit in that state. A third Sandy Hook suit is pending and is scheduled to be tried after the Waterbury case. In a related case, the Sandy Hook families settled a suit against gunmaker Remington, manufacturer of the gun Lanza used, for $73 million.
Jones has said he would return to Connecticut from his headquarters in Texas this week and that he intends to testify. What he can say is not clear.
Under the default, he is not allowed to defend himself from the accusations that his broadcasts are responsible for the threats and harassment. Further complicating his testimony, Bellis has put together a list of a half-dozen or so topics he is not allowed to discuss under the terms of the default ruling.
Among the prohibited topics are free speech rights, the Sandy Hook families’ $73 million and $50 million verdicts in related cases, the percentage of Jones’ shows that discussed Sandy Hook and whether he profited from those shows, the fact that he has been banned by major social media, his bankruptcy filings and politics.
When Jones took the witness stand the first time, his testimony ended in a shouting match involving him, Christopher Mattei, a lawyer for families; and Jones’ lawyer, Norman A. Pattis. After the shouting stopped, Bellis said she would initiate contempt proceedings if there is a repeat performance.
Outside the sidewalk, Jones called the trial a kangaroo court and Bellis a tyrant.