By JIM VERTUNO – Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The parents of a 6-year-old killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting described how they have been living through a “living hell” of death threats, harassment and ongoing trauma for the past decade conspiracy driven theorist Alex Jones, who has used his media platforms to spread claims that it was all a hoax.
The parents conducted a day of testimony Tuesday, with the judge scolding the bombastic Jones for not telling the truth with some of his testimonies under oath.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse was killed at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, took the stand Tuesday on the last day of testimony in the two-week defamation damages trial against Jones and his media company Free Speech Systems. They are demanding at least $150 million in damages.
People also read…
In a gripping exchange, Lewis spoke directly to Jones, who was seated about 10 feet away. Earlier that day, Jones was on his show telling his audience that Heslin was “slow” and manipulated by bad people.
“I am a mother first and I know you are a father. My son existed,” Lewis told Jones. “I’m not a Deep State … I know you know that … and yet you’re going to walk out of this courthouse and say it again on your show.”
At one point, Lewis Jones asked, “Do you think I’m an actor?”
“No, I don’t think you’re an actor,” Jones replied, before the judge warned him to be quiet until called to testify.
Lewis continued to try to convince Jones that the Sandy Hook shooting and trauma inflicted on him in the decade since was real.
“It seems so incredible to me that we have to do this – that we have to beg you to punish you – to get you to stop lying,” Lewis said. “I’m so glad this day is here. I’m actually relieved. And thankful… that I got to tell you all that.”
Jones visibly shook his head several times as Scarlett Lewis spoke to him.
Heslin and Lewis are among several Sandy Hook families that have filed multiple lawsuits alleging that Sandy Hook’s fraud claims made by Jones led to years of abuse by Jones and his followers.
Heslin and Lewis both said they feared for their lives and were confronted with strangers at home and on the street. Heslin said his home and car were shot at. The jury heard a death threat sent by phone message to another Sandy Hook family.
“I can’t even describe the last nine and a half years, the hell on earth I and others have endured because of Alex Jones’ recklessness and negligence,” Heslin said.
Scarlett Lewis also described threatening emails that seemed to have uncovered deep details of her personal life.
“It’s fear for your life,” Scarlett Lewis said. “You don’t know what they were up to.”
Heslin said he doesn’t know if the Sandy Hook hoax conspiracy theory originated with Jones, but it was Jones who “lit the match and lit the fire” with an online platform and a broadcast that reached millions worldwide.
“What has been said about me and Sandy Hook himself resonates around the world,” Heslin said. “As time went on, I really realized how dangerous it was.”
Jones skipped Heslin’s morning testimony while on his show — a move Heslin dismissed as “cowardly” — but came into the courtroom for part of Scarlett Lewis’ testimony. He was accompanied by several private security forces.
“Today is very important to me and it’s taken a long time … to face Alex Jones for what he said and did to me. To restore my son’s honor and legacy,” Heslin said when Jones was away.
Heslin told jurors he held his son with a bullet hole through the head and even described the extent of the damage to his son’s body. A key segment of the case is a 2017 Infowars broadcast that said Heslin failed to hold his son.
The jury was shown a school photograph of a smiling Jesse taken two weeks before his death. The parents only received the photo after the shoot. They described how Jesse was known for telling classmates to “run!” which likely saved lives.
An apology from Jones would not be good enough, the parents said.
“Alex started this fight,” Heslin said, “and I’m going to finish this fight.”
Jones later took the stand himself and was initially belligerent with the judge, who had asked him to answer his own attorney’s question. Jones testified that he had wanted to apologize to the plaintiffs for a long time.
“I never intentionally tried to hurt you. I never said your name until this came up in court,” Jones said. “The internet had questions, I had questions.”
The judge later sent the jury out of the room and vigorously berated Jones for telling the jury he complied with the pretrial hearing of evidence when he had not, and that he was bankrupt, which had not been established. Plaintiff’s attorneys were furious that Jones mentioned that he was bankrupt, which they believe will prejudice a jury decision on damages.
“This isn’t your show,” Judge Maya Guerra Gamble told Jones. “Your beliefs don’t make something true. They are under oath.”
Last September, in her default judgment, Guerra reprimanded Jones for his failure to provide documents requested by the Sandy Hook families. A Connecticut court entered a similar default judgment against Jones for the same reasons in a separate lawsuit filed by other parents of Sandy Hook.
Heslin and Lewis suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that stems from constant trauma similar to that experienced by soldiers in war zones or victims of child abuse, a forensic psychologist who studied and met with their cases said Monday.
Closing arguments were expected Wednesday after further testimony from Jones, who has portrayed the lawsuit against him as an attack on his First Amendment rights.
At stake in the trial is how much Jones will pay. The parents have asked the jury to award $150 million in damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury will then consider whether Jones and company pay punitive damages.
The trial is just one of several faces of Jones.
Courts in Texas and Connecticut have already found Jones liable for defamation for his portrayal of the Sandy Hook massacre as a fraud. In both states, judges entered default judgments against Jones without a trial for failing to respond to court orders and release documents.
Jones has already attempted to protect Free Speech Systems financially. The company filed for federal bankruptcy protection last week. The Sandy Hook families have separately sued Jones over his financial claims, arguing that the company is attempting to protect millions of Jones and his family through shell companies.
Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber contributed to this report.
For more information on AP’s coverage of school shootings: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.