AUSTIN (KXAN) — Twelve people will decide how much money Infowars host Alex Jones should pay the family of a victim killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting.
The Austin-based conspiracy theorist and broadcaster had previously lost defamation cases and was found liable for damages after he said the shooting at Sandy Hook was a hoax.
On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman killed 20 first-grade students and six staff members at the Connecticut school. On his media platforms, Jones later said he believed the shooting did happen, but he claimed he had the right to say it did not.
The jury, chosen on Monday, has been tasked with calculating the amount of punitive damages Jones owes, as well as the amount of compensatory damages he must pay the parents of a child killed in the shooting for inflicting mental anguish.
The twelve jurors and their alternates were narrowed down from a panel of more than 100 people through a series of questions from attorneys for both Jones and the families.
Counsel on both sides acknowledged the “elephant in the room” — the highly-publicized nature of the case.
F. Andino Reyal, Jones’ attorney, asked the potential jurors to raise their hands if they had not heard of his client. Around 10 people raised their hands. Some jurors had personal connections to Jones; another said their family member had a “physical encounter” with someone from Infowars.
“Alex Jones is a very controversial figure,” Reynal later said about his client after explaining how important this case is to Jones and his company.
Jones did not appear in court Monday because, according to Reynal, he was dealing with medical issues.
“I’ve spoken with his doctors and made the decision that he shouldn’t be here. He has no obligation to be here. He wants to be here. If anybody has a problem with that, I need to hear about it now,” he told the jurors.
Wesley Ball, one of the attorneys for the family, told jurors their personal feelings about Jones may not disqualify them. He continually asked if the jurors could put away any strongly held beliefs or personal biases.
“It’s going to be difficult for you to sit in this proceeding, listen to what the judge’s charge and the evidence shows because of a deeply held personal belief?” he asked one.
Ball focused much of his questioning on how the jurors felt about awarding high amounts of damages.
Some jurors said they believed in protecting free speech and didn’t think they’d be able to put a price on how to punish it. One said they felt as if defamation cases were a “slippery slope.” Another said they were not in favor of awarding “ridiculous amounts of money that could never be paid back.”
Meanwhile, others said they believed in free speech, but speakers should be held accountable for what they say.
One potential juror asked, “What if you think the defendant should pay every cent that they have?”
Jones filed for bankruptcy protection for his company in April after losing the defamations lawsuits, and his trial was postponed for three months.
“We have less than $3 million cash, and we need that money” to operate, Jones told the Associated Press.
The Associated Press reported the attorneys for Sandy Hook families accused Jones of hiding millions of dollars in assets. Jones also faces separate defamation lawsuits in Connecticut related to his comments surrounding the Sandy Hook shooting.
After Monday’s jury selection, one of the family’s attorneys, Mark Bankston, told reporters his team was “looking forward” to telling their clients’ story.
Reynal called it an “important First Amendment case” and said he was “happy with the jury that was seated.”
When KXAN asked Reynal about whether Jones will be appearing at any point during the trial, he said it was “up the air at the moment.”
Opening statements for Jones’ trial begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the 459th District Court. According to the judge, the trial is expected to run through Aug. 5.
KXAN’s Leah Bolling contributed to this report.