AUSTIN, Texas — Facing a potential $150 million judgment and two more damages trials for defaming the families of people killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, the conspiracy broadcaster Alex Jones on Friday put his Infowars empire into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Last year, Mr. Jones lost four defamation lawsuits filed by the families of 10 people killed in the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Soon after the shooting, he began spreading the bogus theory that the shooting was staged by the government as a pretext for confiscating Americans’ firearms, and that the families were complicit in the plot. The families have suffered years of torment from people who believe those false claims.
Judges in Texas and Connecticut ruled Mr. Jones liable by default for defying court orders. The losses set the stage for the three jury trials for damages. The first trial began in Austin last week. In it, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse Lewis, 6, died in the massacre, have sought $150 million in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages. Mr. Jones and a sidekick, Owen Shroyer, implied on Infowars that Mr. Heslin’s recollection of holding his son soon after his murder was a lie.
On Friday, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County District Court ordered that the trial continue to a verdict despite the bankruptcy filing, which would otherwise have forced a halt to the litigation.
Lawyers for the families say the bankruptcy filing is another gambit to delay the damages trials in the two remaining cases: one in Texas won by Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, whose son Noah Pozner died at Sandy Hook; and the second won in Connecticut by the families of eight Sandy Hook victims. The remaining trials were scheduled for September, with jury selection in the Connecticut case set to begin next week.
The Sandy Hook School Massacre
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A devastating attack. On Dec. 14, 2012, a 20-year-old gunman killed his mother and then walked into the elementary school armed with semiautomatic pistols and a semiautomatic rifle. He killed 26 people there, 20 of them children, before killing himself.
The push for gun control. Then-President Barack Obama vowed to “use whatever power this office holds” to stop such massacres from happening again. Though legislative efforts to pass a ban on assault weapons and expand background checks failed, a new wave of activism focused on gun control gained traction following the shooting.
“Just two days before jury selection is due to begin in Connecticut, Mr. Jones has once again fled like a coward to bankruptcy court in a transparent attempt to delay facing the families that he has spent years hurting,” Chris Mattei, lawyer for the Sandy Hook families in the Connecticut case, said in a statement.
“These families,” his statement went on, “have an endless well of patience and remain determined to hold Mr. Jones accountable in a Connecticut court.”
The bankruptcy filing was in the name of Free Speech Systems, the Infowars parent company. The petition states that Free Speech Systems has $14 million in assets and $79 million in liabilities. On its list of creditors, the company names several individuals and companies with legal claims against Mr. Jones and Infowars, including for defamation.
Mr. Jones has raised millions from his followers for his legal defense by pleading for their help on his radio and online show. Contributions include an anonymous donation of $8 million in cryptocurrency that Mr. Jones said last week that he had already spent. Infowars says it has spent $15 million on legal bills in the Sandy Hook cases, according to Friday’s filing.
Eric Taube, the Texas lawyer who helped create the network of Infowars companies that the Sandy Hook families’ lawyers say are crucial to helping Mr. Jones protect his business from the jury verdicts, declined to comment on Saturday.