AUSTIN, TX– Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has gone through the first of several trials against him that could decimate his personal fortune and media empire in his usual way: loud, aggressive and talking about conspiracies both in and out of the room of hearing.
It’s business as usual for the gravelly-voiced, barrel-chested Jones. But by courtroom standards, his erratic and, at times, disrespectful behavior is unusual — and potentially complicated for the legal process.
Jones and his media company, Free Speech Systems, were ordered Thursday to pay $4.11 million in compensatory damages to the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, who was killed along with 19 other first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. And many more could be on the way.
Although the more than $4 million is significantly less than the $150 million in damages sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the jury reconvenes on Friday to hear more about Jones’ finances before deciding damages. – punitive interests.
Jones faces two more Sandy Hook lawsuits to determine damages later this year: one for the parents of a 6-year-old boy in an Austin court and another for eight Connecticut families.
Heslin and Lewis testified that Jones’ constant push of false claims that the shooting was a hoax or staged has made the past decade a ‘living hell’ of death threats, online abuse and trauma relentless inflicted by Jones and his followers.
After years of false prank allegations, Jones admitted under oath that the shooting was “100% real” and even shook hands with the parents.
But the explosive version of Jones was still hidden below the surface, or even on full display away from the courthouse.
During a break on the first day, he held an impromptu press conference just yards from the courtroom doors, declaring the proceedings a “kangaroo court” and a “show trial” completing his fight for free speech under the First Amendment. On the first day, he arrived at the courthouse with “Save the 1st” written on silver tape over his mouth.
When he came to the courthouse, it was always with a security detail of three or four guards. Jones, who was not in court for the verdict, often skipped testimony to appear on his daily Infowars program, where the attacks on judge and jury continued. During a broadcast, Jones said the jury was made up of a group of people who “don’t know what planet they live on.”
This clip was shown to the jury. So did a snapshot from its Infowars website showing Judge Maya Guerra Gamble engulfed in flames. She laughed at that.
Jones was only slightly less combative in court. He was the only witness to testify for his defense and Gamble knew this had the potential to go off the rails. She warned Jones’ lawyers before it even started that if he tried to make a performance out of it, she would empty the courtroom and shut down the live broadcast of the trial to the world.
When Jones arrived for Lewis’s testimony, Gamble asked if he was chewing gum, a violation of a strict rule in his courtroom. She had already scolded her lawyer Andino Reynal several times.
This led to a testy exchange. Jones said he didn’t chew gum. Gamble said she could see his mouth moving. Jones opened wide and leaned over the defense table to show him a space in his mouth where he had had a tooth extracted. Jones insisted he was just massaging the hole with his tongue.
“Don’t show me,” the judge said.
Some legal experts said they were surprised by Jones’ behavior and questioned whether it was a calculated risk to boost his appeal to fans.
“This is the most bizarre behavior I’ve ever seen in a trial,” said Barry Covert, a First Amendment attorney from Buffalo, New York. “In my opinion, Jones is a money-making juggernaut — mad as a fox,” Covert said. “The bigger the show, the better.”
Kevin Goldberg, a First Amendment scholar at the Maryland-based Freedom Forum, said he had a hard time imagining what Jones might be thinking and what benefit he might derive from his behavior.
“I don’t know what it’s designed to accomplish other than being on the Alex Jones brand,” Goldberg said. “He seems like a man who built his mark…on disrespect for government institutions…and this court.”
Defendants at trial often have some leeway because they have so much at stake — jail in criminal cases and, in Jones’ civil lawsuit, potential financial ruin. Monetary penalties or even contempt charges after trial are also a possibility.
Gamble had to be careful how she handled it all, Covert said.
“Jones’ bizarre behavior puts the judge in a very difficult box,” Covert said. “She doesn’t want to appear to put her finger on the scales of justice.”
Jones skipped Heslin’s testimony when he described to the jury holding his dead son in his arms with a “bullet hole in his head.”
Heslin said he wanted to face Jones face to face and called his absence that day “cowardly”. Jones was instead appearing on his daily show.
Jones was in the room when Lewis spoke, sitting barely 10 feet away as she looked directly at him.
“My son existed. I’m not a “deep state,” she said of the conspiracy theory of a shadowy network of federal workers running the government.
“I know you know that,” Lewis said.
When Lewis asked Jones if he thought she was an actress, Jones replied “No”, but was interrupted by Gamble who berated him for speaking out of turn.
At the end of that day, Jones and the parents shook hands. Lewis even handed him a sip of water to help calm a persistent cough, according to Jones, caused by a torn larynx. His lawyer Wesley Ball quickly intervened to break it off.
“No,” Ball told Jones, “You are NOT doing that.”
Jones was the only witness for his defense. His testimony so often pushed court rules that plaintiffs openly questioned whether Jones and his lawyers were trying to sabotage the court and force a mistrial. They filed a motion for sanctions against them after Jones claimed he was bankrupt, which lawyers dispute and was barred from testifying.
At one point, Jones looked flabbergasted when the family’s attorneys announced that Jones’ legal team had mistakenly sent them two years of data from his cell phone – a huge data dump that they said should have been be produced when discovered, but was not. They said it proved he had received text messages and emails about Sandy Hook and his media company’s finances that he had not handed over under a court order.
“It’s your Perry Mason moment,” Jones quipped.
The plaintiff’s attorney, Mark Bankston, said Thursday that the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, uprising at the United States Capitol requested the documents and intends to release them. give them.
The Jan. 6 committee first subpoenaed Jones in November, demanding a deposition and documents related to his efforts to spread misinformation about the 2020 election and a rally on the day of the attack.
During the trial, Jones often spoke out of turn and was interrupted when he veered into conspiracies, ranging from the staged 9/11 terrorist attacks to a bogus United Nations effort on global depopulation. He continued to question some of the biggest events and important governmental institutions in American life.
“This,” the judge told him, “is not your show.”
Tarm reported from Chicago.
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