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Lawyers in Remington lawsuit will get access to computer used by Adam Lanza, shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre

Ian Hockley, father of Dylan Hockley, one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, addresses the media in 2017 after a hearing before the state Supreme Court in a lawsuit filed by nine Sandy Hook families against Remington Arms, the manufacturer of the gun used in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. Hockey is surrounded by other family members and attorney Josh Koskoff. (Cloe Poisson / Hartford Courant/TNS)

Lawyers involved in a civil lawsuit filed by families of victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre against Remington, the manufacturer of the weapon used in the attack, will get access to the shooter’s computer to search for records that could impact the case.

The two sides have agreed to a hire a forensic computer consultant to create digital images of pieces of evidence in the possession of the Connecticut State Police, which investigated the school shooting, according to court records. State police have never publicly said how successful the FBI was in retrieving data from Adam Lanza’s computer or how it was done but is is clear from thousands of pages turned over to The Courant in 2018 after a five-year fight to get them that plenty was recovered from his computer.

In a one-page stipulation approved by Judge Barbara Bellis Thursday in Superior Court in Waterbury the lawyers also agreed to share the cost of the consultant, to not use the consultant as an expert witness and that all communications with the consultant must include both parties.

State police impounded Lanza’s computer from his Newtown home as part of their year-long investigation of the shooting. They have retained possession of it ever since at the state police forensic laboratory.

Some of the documents that state police recovered from Lanza’s computer have already been made public by the Courant, including a spreadsheet of mass killers that he kept and his writings on subjects such as his disgust for overweight people and his aversion to being touched.

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But attorneys for the families and for Remington want to search for documents that could impact the current lawsuit — such as his exposure to gun advertisements or gun websites that he may have visited.

Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15 to kill 26 people, including 20 first graders inside the Sandy Hook School on Dec. 14, 2012. He fired 156 rounds in under five minutes before using a handgun to then kill himself. Before going to the school he killed his mother Nancy Lanza in her bed at their Yogananda Street home.

Nine families of victims, plus a teacher who was injured and an FBI agent who responded to the shooting, filed the lawsuit in 2015 against Remington, also naming Camfour Holding LLP, the gun’s distributor, and Riverview Gun Sales Inc., the East Windsor gun shop where Nancy Lanza purchased the weapon for her son. Camfour and Riverview have since been dropped as defendants.

The status conference before Judge Bellis on Thursday was mostly to discuss Remington’s issues with a newly filed complaint and to discuss objections by Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder, the families attorneys, to discovery requests by Remington.

“All the defendants want are the facts the plaintiffs have today that show Adam Lanza was exposed to Bushmaster advertisements,” said James Vogts, a lawyer for Remington.

Attorney Josh Koskoff responded that is one of the reasons they want access to the shooter’s computer. Koskoff has refrained from using Lanza’s name at the families’ request.

“They want us to tell them what we have before the shooters computer has even been searched,” Koskoff said.

Bellis told the two sides to try and work out their differences without her having to rule and slow the case down. Bellis has set up a schedule to get the case to trial by the fall of 2021. The conference Thursday was a monthly one that Bellis has set up to monitor how the two sides are proceeding with discovery issues. The judge scheduled the next court date in the case for March 12.

Bellis had originally dismissed the lawsuit in 2016, siding with lawyers for Remington Arms because it “falls squarely within the broad immunity” provided to gun manufacturers and dealers” by the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which has protected the manufacturers of the AR-15 assault rifle from lawsuits.

But last year the state Supreme Court overturned that dismissal ruling by a 4-3 vote, saying that the Sandy Hook families should have the opportunity to prove that Remington violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act by marketing what it knew was a weapon designed for military use to civilians such as Nancy and Adam Lanza.

The justices ruled while Bellis was correct in dismissing the lawsuit based on Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, they determined she should have let the case proceed on the allegations that the unfair trade practices law was violated.

The justices remanded the case back to Bellis.

But Remington appealed the state ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court further delaying the case. The court declined to hear the case.

Koskoff said they they have filed “a pared down” amended complaint this week focusing specifically on what the Supreme Court ruled — whether Remington had violated Connecticut laws.

The amended lawsuit alleges that Remington’s marketed the AR-15 to lone gunman, glorified the weapon’s military design and promoted its use even as evidence showed that it was the weapon of choice for mass shooters. The lawsuit said Remington’s marketing was unethical, immoral and unscrupulous.

The Sandy Hook families have said they filed the lawsuit in hopes of getting Remington to reveal internal documents on how the gun companies have marketed the AR-15, which has become the weapon of choice for mass shooters. The gun manufacturers have closely guarded information on how they market the assault weapons.

Lanza removed the hard drives from his computer and smashed them to pieces. The FBI was tasked with trying to retrieve data.

They have never publicly said how successful the FBI was in retrieving that data or how it was done but is is clear from the thousands of pages turned over to the Courant after a five-year fight to get them that plenty was recovered from his computer.

The documents released by the state police aren’t in chronological order and it’s unclear when Lanza wrote many of them. A number of them are unsigned, though several were downloaded from his computer where they had been stored on his desktop.

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© 2020 The Hartford Courant