AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas jury will hear the first testimony Tuesday in a civil lawsuit to decide how much Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay Sandy Hook Elementary School parents for falsely telling his audience that the deadliest classroom shooting in U.S. history was a hoax.
At stake for Jones is a potentially major financial blow that could put his constellation of conspiracy peddling businesses into deeper jeopardy. He has already been banned from YouTube, Facebook and Spotify over violating hate-speech policies.
The trial involving the parents of two Sandy Hook families is only the start for Jones. Damages have yet to be awarded in separate defamation cases for other families of the 2012 massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
The lawsuits do not ask jurors to award a specific dollar amount against Jones, but in questioning the Texas jury pool on Monday, attorneys for the families suggested they could seek $100 million or more in compensatory and punitive damages.
Opening statements and testimony are set for Tuesday. Family members of the shooting victims and Jones were not in the courtroom when a 12-person jury and four alternates were selected Monday from a jury pool of more than 100.
“We’re very glad the day is here,” said Mark Bankston, attorney for the families suing Jones. “We’re looking forward to telling our clients’ story.”
It’s unclear if Jones will attend any of the scheduled two-week trial. His attorney said Jones has a “medical issue” but did not elaborate.
Initial testimony Tuesday is expected to include Daniel Jewiss, who was the Connecticut State Police lead investigator of Sandy Hook, and Daria Karpova, a producer at Infowars.
In questioning the jury pool, Jones’ attorney Andino Reynal acknowledged Jones is a “very polarizing” and “controversial” figure, but also noted he’d ask the jury to cap damages at $1.
During jury selection, most in the jury pool raised their hand when asked if they had heard of Jones, and nearly two dozen agreed when Reynal asked who among them had a “firm negative impression” of him.
“We’re very happy with the jury we’ve seated,” Reynal said. “It’s a very important First Amendment case. On trial right now is not just people’s freedom of speech, but it’s also people’s freedom to listen. To choose what they watch on television, to make those choices for themselves, instead of having a personal injury lawyer make those choices for them.”
Courts in Texas and Connecticut have already found Jones liable for defamation for his portrayal of the Sandy Hook massacre as a hoax involving actors aimed at increasing gun control. In both states, judges have issued default judgements against Jones without trials because he failed to respond to court orders and turn over documents.
The Texas trial begins about two months after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, which is about 145 miles (235 kilometers) southwest of Austin. It was the deadliest school shooting in the nearly 10 years since Sandy Hook.
The 2012 Connecticut shooting killed 20 first graders and six educators. Families of eight of the victims and an FBI agent who responded to the school are suing Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems.
Jones has since acknowledged that the shooting took place. During a deposition in April, Jones insisted he wasn’t responsible for the suffering that Sandy Hook parents say they have endured because of the hoax conspiracy, including death threats and harassment by Jones’ followers.
Jones claimed in court records last year that he had a negative net worth of $20 million, but attorneys for Sandy Hook families have painted a different financial picture.
Court records show that Jones’ Infowars store, which sells nutritional supplements and survival gear, made more than $165 million between 2015 and 2018. Jones has also urged listeners on his Infowars program to donate money.
Associated Press reporter Paul J. Weber contributed to this report.