AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A producer for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s media company tried to paint a sympathetic portrait of him Thursday as a jury decides how much in financial damages he should pay for his past claims that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school was a hoax — a move that lawyers for parents of a child slain in the massacre immediately rebuked as hypocritical.
Daria Karpova, a producer at Jones’ Austin, Texas-based website, testified that that the pressure of multiple lawsuits and trials has taken a toll on Jones. He’s been “stressed out” and can’t relax even while on vacation as he’s been constantly worried about his programs and money over the past four years since being sued for defamation.
Karpova said some people believe Jones murdered the 20 first-graders killed in the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, that left a total of 26 dead.
A lawyer for the parents suing Jones for at least $150 million for the abuse they say they’ve suffered for years because of Jones’ false statements immediately jumped on the depiction of a wounded man struggling to cope with lies said about him as posturing.
“When people lie about you it affects you negatively, it affects your well-being? Do you understand the irony, the hypocrisy of making that statement in this courtroom right now?” asked Mark Bankston, attorney for Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, who was killed at the school.
“It’s just the truth,” Karpova said. “What am I supposed to say?”
Heslin and Lewis sued Jones for emotional distress and reputational damage that Jones caused them and are seeking at least $150 million from Jones and his media empire Free Speech Systems.
Courts in Texas and Connecticut have already found Jones liable for defamation for his portrayal of the Sandy Hook massacre as a hoax involving “crisis actors” aimed at increasing gun control. In both states, the judges issued default judgments against Jones without trials because he failed to respond to court orders and turn over documents.
In total, the families of eight Sandy Hook victims and an FBI agent who responded to the school are suing Jones and his company in multiple courts.
Jones has since acknowledged that the shooting took place, but insists he’s not 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.
The first three days of the trial have been dominated by video clips of Jones and Sandy Hook reports on his show and testimony from Karpova, who has worked at the website since 2015.
Karpova was designated by the company to be its representative at trial, but could not answer questions about company revenue and its numbers of viewers and listeners. She also struggled to answer other questions about some of the video evidence she was instructed to prepare testimony about.
In one video clip presented by defense attorney Andino Reynal from 2017, Jones invited the families of Sandy Hook to come on his program for an “open dialogue”
“Alex could have been advocates for these parents, done a lot of good to stop anyone there to harass them,” she said as Heslin and Lewis sat about 20 feet away in the courtroom.
Karpova called the show’s reliance on Wolfgang Halbig, a Sandy Hook denier, as a frequent guest and source of information “the worst decision ever made by the company.” Several of the clips featured in evidence have included Halbig, as well as a taunting email he sent to Scarlett Lewis.
Later Thursday, the jury watched a 2017 clip at the center of the case: a report where studio host Owen Shroyer strongly suggested Heslin could not have held the body of his dead son like he’d described in a television interview.
“I’m sorry if that hurt anybody,” Shroyer said Thursday after being called as a witness. “I hope their grieving can end someday.”
He then implied the trial itself could keep hurting the families.
Jones has been in and out of the courtroom during testimony. He had four bodyguards with him Thursday. He has tried to portray the damages trial as an assault of the First Amendment right to free speech.
He arrived at the courthouse on Tuesday with a “Save the 1st” message printed on a large piece of silver tape over this mouth. In a break during opening statements, he held an impromptu news conference just steps away from the courtroom to call the trial a “show trial” by a “kangaroo court.”