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Alex Jones must pay for Sandy Hook’s lies, parents’ lawyer says as defamation trial begins

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July 26 (Reuters) – US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones led a “despicable smear campaign” when he falsely claimed the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax, a Texas jury was told Tuesday, but a Jones attorney said that his client had already paid a price.

Attorney Mark Bankston, who represents the parents of murdered 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, made the charge at the start of a jury trial to decide how much Jones should pay for spreading falsehoods about the murder of 20 children and six Sandy Hook employees. Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.

Jones, founder of the Infowars radio show and webcast, had claimed that the mainstream media and gun control activists had conspired to fabricate the tragedy. He had said the shooting was staged with the help of crisis actors, but later acknowledged that it took place.

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“Mr. Jones kept coming up with the idea that Sandy Hook was fake,” Bankston told the jurors. He said Jones and Infowars were responsible for the “most despicable and despicable campaign of slander and slander in American history.”

Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, Jesse’s parents, are seeking $150 million in compensatory and punitive damages for what they believe was a campaign of harassment and death threats by Jones’ followers.

Federico Reynal, a Jones attorney, acknowledged Infowars had spread false information, but said his client had a right to question mainstream stories about his show. He said Jones had lost millions of viewers since he was deplatformed on social media in 2018.

“He regrets what he’s done and he’s paying a price for it,” Reynal said.

Austin, Texas, Texas Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, who oversees the trial, issued a rare default judgment in 2021, holding Jones liable without trial after ignoring court orders and failing to hand over documents.

The defamation charge in Texas, where Infowars is based, is one of many filed by victims’ families who say they were harassed by Jones’ followers and suffered emotional pain after he claimed the shooting was faked.

Jones and his company Free Speech Systems LLC are the defendants in the case.

The compensation process follows months of delays. Three entities associated with Infowars have filed for bankruptcy in a now-defunct case. The families of the Sandy Hook victims had said the bankruptcy was a sinister attempt by Jones to protect his assets from liability as a result of the libel lawsuits.

Jones, who was in court, will appear in court in September in a similar libel suit in Connecticut District Court, where he has also been found liable for defamation in a default judgment.

Sandy Hook’s gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, used a Remington Bushmaster rifle to carry out the massacre. It ended when Lanza committed suicide with police sirens approaching.

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Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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