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As Sandy Hook defamation trial begins, Alex Jones might be absent

Infowars founder Alex Jones has been sued several times over his false claims about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

As a civil trial begins Tuesday in Texas to determine how much Alex Jones owes in defamation damages to the parents of victims in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School after he falsely claimed the massacre was a “giant hoax,” unspecified medical problems could prevent the right-wing conspiracy theorist from being in the courthouse, according to his attorney.

During jury selection on Monday, Jones’s attorney, F. Andino Reynal, told the Austin courtroom that the founder of Infowars “has medical issues” that could keep him from showing up during parts of the trial, even though he “has no obligation to be here.”

“Alex, you may have noticed, is not here, like the plaintiffs,” said Reynal, according to the News-Times in Danbury, Conn. “He may not be here through parts of the trial.”

The defense attorney reiterated to KXAN in Austin after the jury selection was complete that he had spoken to Jones’s doctors and “made the decision that [Jones] shouldn’t be here.”

“He wants to be here,” Reynal said.

While Reynal did not specify what “medical issues” could prevent the 48-year-old from attending the trial in person, Jones, who has already lost several defamation lawsuits related to his Sandy Hook falsehoods, has previously blamed stress and cardiovascular effects from his coronavirus infection for missing depositions in the Connecticut trial last year. Jones has also faced daily fines of $25,000 from a Connecticut judge for failing to show up for court-ordered depositions in March.

Reynal did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Tuesday.

Mark Bankston, an attorney for the families suing Jones, also did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment. Bankston told the Associated Press that the families were “very glad the day is here” to begin the trial.

“We’re looking forward to telling our clients’ story,” Bankston said.

Jones faces another possible financial blow years after he said the deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history — in which 26 people were killed in Newtown, Conn., 20 of them young children — was a “false flag” operation carried out by “crisis actors.” While Jones has since acknowledged that the shooting took place and blamed his false claims on “a form of psychosis,” he has been banned from major platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Spotify for violating their hate-speech policies. He also placed his conspiracy website, Infowars, into bankruptcy protection before the Texas trial was initially set to begin in April.

Infowars, run by Alex Jones, files for bankruptcy protection

Judges in Connecticut and Texas have found Jones liable for damages in lawsuits stemming from his false claims. In default judgments against Jones and Infowars last October, District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County, Tex., ruled that Jones did not comply with court orders to give information in a pair of 2018 lawsuits brought against him by the families of two children killed in the 2012 massacre. Jones repeatedly did not hand over documents and evidence to the court supporting his damaging and erroneous claims.

Jones has been previously ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to families who have sued him. Nine families have sued him over the years.

Alex Jones must pay damages to Sandy Hook families after calling shooting a ‘giant hoax,’ judge rules

“An escalating series of judicial admonishments, monetary penalties, and non-dispositive sanctions have all been ineffective at deterring the abuse,” Gamble wrote last year.

Gamble’s 2021 rulings related to two 2018 lawsuits filed by Sandy Hook parents Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, who lost their 6-year-old son, Noah, and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse, was also killed in the shooting. Pozner and De La Rosa said they have faced emotional distress and have been harassed for years by Infowars fans who have followed Jones’s lead and falsely claimed that the shooting was staged.

Jones acknowledged on his Infowars website earlier this year that he had missed pretrial depositions for the 2021 trial in Connecticut, citing health reasons related to covid-19. The Food and Drug Administration and health experts have blasted Jones for promoting and selling products on his website that he falsely claimed would “boost your immune system” against the virus.

“I started getting sick after I got covid last year … like everybody else. It attacked the cardiovascular system, okay?” Jones said in an audio message posted in March. “I’m 48, and I’m under a lot of stress.”

Jurors in Austin, where Infowars is headquartered, will not hear evidence about the defamation claims but, instead, determine how much in compensatory and punitive damages Jones must pay the victims’ families. While Jones has claimed in court filings that he has a net worth of negative $20 million, attorneys for the Sandy Hook families have pointed to records showing that Jones’s Infowars store made more than $165 million between 2015 and 2018.

Among those expected to testify Tuesday are Daria Karpova, a producer at Infowars, and Daniel Jewiss, who was the lead investigator of the Sandy Hook shooting for the Connecticut State Police. Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, the parents of Jesse Lewis, are also expected to testify during the trial.

Gamble, the judge presiding over the case, said the trial is expected to last two weeks. She urged jurors not to read or watch any of the news related to Jones or the case, according to the News-Times.

“We want a trial based only on the evidence presented in court,” she said.

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