Jury sent home; Alex Jones testimony to continue next week
WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) — Lawyers in the defamation trial of Alex Jones agreed Friday not to return him to the stand until next week after a contentious day of testimony Thursday about his promotion of the lie that the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax.
Jones lawyer, Norm Pattis, told the judge he would waive his right to cross-examine the Infowars host and instead call him again as a defense witness next week.
“We think that this will streamline the proceeding, lower the temperature level and help the jury focus on what it needs to decide,” Pattis said in Superior Court in Waterbury, Connecticut, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the elementary school in Newtown where 20 first graders and six educators were killed.
The jury was sent home around noon. It will determine how much in damages Jones and Infowars’ parent company, Free Speech Systems, should pay relatives of five children and three adults killed at the school, for saying the shooting didn’t happen and inflicting emotional distress. An FBI agent who responded to the shooting also is a plaintiff.
In his first day of testimony Thursday, Jones got into a heated exchange with plaintiffs’ attorney Christopher Mattei, accusing the lawyer of “ambulance chasing” and saying he was done apologizing for claiming the shooting was staged. In recent years, Jones has acknowledged the massacre happened, but says the families of victims are being used to push a gun-control and anti-free speech agenda.
Outside the courthouse and on his Infowars show, Jones has referred to the proceedings as a “show trial” and a “kangaroo court” and called Judge Barbara Bellis a tyrant, posting an image of her with lasers shooting from her eyes.
Jones on Friday was still complaining about the case, including the limits on what he can say on the witness stand.
“Basically it would be like a boxing match where one guy has his arms tied behind his back and a gag in his mouth,” he said outside the courthouse. “So this is totally rigged. It’s an absolute total fraud.”
Jones also said that if he could, he would tell the jury to “research history and understand how dangerous it is when they’ll pick one event of speech that they can say is hurtful, to then use that to set the precedent, to try to knock over all the dominoes and take everybody’s free speech away.”
The comments drew immediate concern from the plaintiffs’ lawyers, who accused Jones of trying to undermine the trial and taint the jury. They informed Bellis about Jones’ statements.
Before dismissing jurors for the day, Bellis repeated her daily instructions that they should not discuss the case with anybody, not view any media coverage and not do any outside research. Because of Jones’ comments Friday, she also told jurors they should avoid any news conferences outside the courthouse.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers sent Bellis’ clerk a link to a video of what Jones said earlier Friday, for her to determine whether any sanctions were warranted. Bellis asked Pattis to convince Jones to stop making such statements, and he agreed to try.
Bellis last year found Jones and his company liable by default for damages to plaintiffs without a trial, a consequence for what she called his repeated failure to turn over documents to their lawyers.
Earlier in the trial, victims’ relatives gave often emotional testimony describing how they endured death threats, in-person harassment and abusive comments on social media by people calling the shooting a hoax. Some moved to avoid the abuse.
Pattis is arguing that any damages should be limited and accused the victims’ relatives of exaggerating the harm the lies caused them.
Bellis has ordered Jones not to mention in his testimony several topics, including free speech rights and his claims he only discussed Sandy Hook in a small percentage of his shows.
In a similar trial last month in Austin, Texas, home to Jones and Infowars, a jury ordered Jones to pay nearly $50 million in damages to the parents of one of the children killed in the shooting, because of the hoax lies. A third such trial in Texas involving two other parents is expected to begin near the end of the year.
The Connecticut trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday.
This story was corrected to show that the plaintiffs include relatives of eight Sandy Hook shooting victims, not eight of the children killed.
Associated Press writer Michael Hill contributed to this report from Waterbury.