Parents of Sandy Hook shooting victim call for accountability in Alex Jones’ defamation trial
The parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis are suing Jones for falsely claiming that the 2012 mass school shooting was a hoax meant to take away Americans’ guns. The trial is the first of three to determine monetary penalties against the Texas-based conspiracy theorist for his lies about the tragedy.
Testifying Tuesday during the two-week defamation trial against Alex Jones, the parent of a Sandy Hook school shooting victim said the Texas-based conspiracy theorist needs to be held accountable for lies he has said about the tragedy.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, who died in the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, are suing Jones for $150 million for defamation.
During his testimony Tuesday, Heslin said he needs accountability to move on with his life and try to recover from the trauma of the tragedy.
“You can never recover from the loss of a child,” Heslin said during the trial. “When you lose a child, you lose a part of yourself. You feel violated by the loss of your child. It’s something you can’t recover from.”
The trial is the first of three to determine monetary penalties for defamation and emotional distress that Jones caused with lies about the Sandy Hook shooting, in which 20 students and six educators were killed. Jones repeatedly claimed on Infowars, his Austin-based website and broadcast, that the mass shooting was a staged government conspiracy meant to take away Americans’ guns.
In October, an Austin judge ordered a default judgment against Jones for defamation after he called the school shooting a hoax, leading Jones’ listeners to harass the victims’ families. In the past year, Jones has lost all the defamation lawsuits filed by 10 families of Sandy Hook victims.
Heslin said he wants the outcome of this lawsuit to restore his own credibility and reputation, which was tarnished by Jones, as well as the legacy of his son.
The family has previously described their son as a hero. During the Sandy Hook shooting, he ran into the school hallway when he first heard shots, the family said in a legacy.com obituary. Jesse confronted the shooter, yelled for other children to run, and nine children were able to escape the classroom they were hiding in.
Jones was not present in the courtroom during Heslin’s testimony and was only present for a portion of Lewis’. Heslin called Jones’ absence “disrespectful” and “cowardly.” During or shortly after Heslin’s testimony, Jones appeared on Infowars and spoke about the plaintiff, using what one of Heslin’s lawyers described as “inflammatory” language. During a video clip of the show shown during the trial Tuesday, Jones said Heslin is “a nice man” who has been “manipulated by some very bad people.” He said he doesn’t think Heslin is “stupid” but does believe he is “slow.”
Lewis said she felt grateful that she could deliver part of her testimony to Jones’ face. She said he had been negatively impacted almost every day of her life since her son’s death, and it was a relief to finally be able to testify.
During her testimony, Lewis repeatedly said she believes Jones knows Sandy Hook was a real, unstaged tragedy. However, he is determined to continue spreading lies on his show in the interest of monetary gain, she said.
“I know there are hoaxes out there, but this is an incredibly real event. I lived it,” Lewis said.
She said she doesn’t believe that Jones will stop perpetuating misinformation until he is held accountable with a punishment that will teach him a lesson.
During her testimony, Lewis compared losing her son to the “phantom pains” people experience when they lose a limb. Although he is gone, she feels the pain of his death every day.
The lies from Jones and his team about the tragedy have compounded that pain, Lewis said. Both Lewis and Heslin have experienced multiple accusatory emails and death threats as a result of Jones’ lies. Lewis said she feels unsafe in her own home, which she has lived in since Jesse’s death.
Heslin and Lewis were placed in isolation under the protection of a beefed-up security force, their lawyer, Mark Bankston, told the Austin American-Statesman on Monday.
"Unfortunately, after some encounters — which did not occur in the courthouse, there were some encounters here in the city of Austin — my clients are now in isolation, and they are being protected by a large security staff," Bankston said.
Separate from the trial, Jones’ main company, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy on Friday. One of the Sandy Hooks families’ lawyers, Avi Moshenberg, previously told The Texas Tribune that the bankruptcy filing is an effort to avoid oversight. He believes Jones hopes to declare bankruptcy as a small business, with limited debt, prior to the culmination of the current trial. The damages awarded would drastically increase the company’s debt and eliminate the possibility of filing for bankruptcy as a small business.