Parents of a child who was murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings gave moving testimony in a Texas court on Tuesday, telling a jury that lies pushed by right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones have stained their son’s inheritance and tormented them for years.
The jury hearing the case will determine how much damages Jones will have to pay to the parents, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, who won a default judgment against him earlier this year. An attorney representing Heslin and Lewis asked the jury last week to award Heslin and Lewis $150 million.
Sometimes holding back tears, Heslin told the jury that Jones, through his conspiratorial media organization Infowars, “tarnished the honor and the legacy” of his son. Heslin said he couldn’t “even begin to describe the last nine and a half years of hell” he endured because of Jones.
“There has to be a powerful deterrent that will stop him from peddling this propaganda,” Heslin said, adding that through his testimony he wanted to “restore my credibility, my reputation and Jesse’s legacy that he deserves so much”.
As Heslin testified, a courtroom television screen showed a photo of his murdered son, six-year-old Jesse Lewis. Jones, who is expected to testify in his own defense later Tuesday, was absent from the courtroom during Heslin’s testimony and the first part of Lewis’ testimony. Heslin called the absence “a cowardly act.”
“I’ve been here for a week and a half and [during] my last testimony, Mr. Alex Jones doesn’t have the guts to sit in front of me or face me,” Heslin said.
An attorney representing Heslin and Lewis told CNN the two had to be isolated and under professional security protection during the trial.
Heslin also said on the stand that the lie pushed by Jones “resonates around the world” and that he realized “how dangerous he is.”
Heslin described being repeatedly confronted by those who believed Jones over the past ten years, saying such interactions occur “to this day”.
“My life was threatened,” Heslin said. “I fear for my life. I fear for my safety, that of my family and their lives.
In a remarkable moment in court, Lewis spoke directly to Jones, who was in the courtroom after the trial was interrupted for lunch. She said she wanted to address Jones to the face.
“Jesse was real,” Lewis told Jones. “I am a real mom.”
Lewis told Jones she thought he didn’t really believe the lies he pushed about Sandy Hook.
“That’s the problem, I know you know that,” Lewis told Jones. “But you keep saying it. Why? Why? For money?”
Lewis said ‘having a six-year-old son shot in the forehead’ at school is ‘unbearable pain’.
“And then having someone else perpetuating a lie that it was a hoax, that it didn’t happen, that it was a false flag, and that I was an actress – You think I’m an actress?” Lewis asked.
Lewis told the jury that damages were appropriate in the case because she doesn’t think Jones will ever quit.
“There was no sincere apology,” she said. “But if there was, ever, I liken it to a car accident and you run over someone and cause huge bodily damage and you look at that person lying on the ground and say, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m not responsible for any damage I just caused. But I’m sorry.’ That’s how I see it.
Regardless, Lewis said she doesn’t believe Jones understands the repercussions of “going on air with a huge audience and lying and calling it a hoax.”
“It seems so unbelievable to me that we had to do this,” Lewis told Jones. “That we need to implore you – not just implore you, punish you – to stop lying… It’s surreal what’s going on here.
Lewis also testified in court that she had been harassed and received death threats, including at her home, which she said reopened the wounds surrounding her son’s murder.
“Fear, anxiety, and insecurity… hold me back from healing,” Lewis said. “It definitely has a negative impact on the healing process.”
Lewis described the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories as “deeply disturbing”.
“I feel compromised,” Lewis said, describing how she felt about her own personal safety.
Roy Lubit, a forensic psychiatrist who was hired to perform an examination of Heslin and Lewis, testified in court on Monday how terrified and worried both parents were for their personal safety.
Lubit told the court that Lewis and Heslin “are very, very scared.” When asked to clarify who they’re afraid of, Lubit replied, “Some Jones supporters are trying to kill them.”
Lubit explained that Lewis slept with a gun, knife and pepper spray on his nightstand. Lubit added that she wouldn’t even turn on the air conditioning on hot days for fear that she wouldn’t be able to hear an intruder coming possibly hurting her.
Lewis testified on Tuesday that she owned a gun to keep her other son safe, telling the jury she had failed to keep a son safe and would do whatever was in her power to ensure that no harm is done to her other child.
Jones spoke in the afternoon, telling the court he felt “good” because he had the opportunity to fend off plaintiffs and the media.
From the stand, Jones told Heslin and Lewis, “I never intentionally tried to hurt you.”
Jones said the “internet had a lot of questions” about the Sandy Hook set, and so did he. Jones maintained that he had simply “tried to find out what really happened”.
After the jury left the courtroom following Jones’ testimony, Mark Bankston, the plaintiffs’ attorney, accused Jones and his attorney, Federico Andino Reynal, of trying to “poison” the trial. Bankston said they would file for sanctions against Jones and Reynal.
Bankston specifically said Jones breached court orders when he tried to discuss his net worth on the stand.
“Mr. Jones just did it intentionally in violation of your order to try to poison this compensatory damages verdict to try to tell this jury that he’s broke, and he’s not, and that’s is in violation of your order,” Bankston told the judge.
Judge Maya Guerra Gamble said she will hear all formally filed motions for sanctions against Jones and Reynal after the trial concludes.
But Gamble chastised Jones for his behavior and said he had already broken his oath to tell the truth twice.
“Mr. Jones, you can’t tell this jury you complied with discovery. That’s not true. You can’t tell this jury you’re bankrupt. You can’t tell this jury you’re bankrupt. That’s not true either,” Gamble said.
“You are already under oath to tell the truth,” Gamble added. “You have already violated that oath twice today, in those two instances only. It seems absurd to tell you again that you must tell the truth while you testify. Yet here I am again.
“It’s not your show,” Gamble added.
Jones attempted to tell Gamble that he believed he was telling the truth.
“You believe everything you say is true, but your beliefs don’t make something true,” Gamble said. “That’s what we do here. Just because you claim something is true doesn’t make it true. It does not protect you. It is not allowed. You are under oath. It means things have to be true when you say them.
Jones has denounced the ongoing legal proceedings, claiming baselessly last week that he was being tried in Texas in “kangaroo court”. Infowars has also posted content attacking the judges overseeing the cases in slimy terms.
Jones’ media company, Free Speech Systems, which is the company that operates Infowars, filed for bankruptcy on Friday.
Jury selection for a similar trial involving the Jones and Sandy Hook families began Tuesday in Connecticut, where Jones was also found liable for damages earlier this year. But jury selection was put on hold after Jones’ attorneys filed papers in federal court to withdraw the case for now due to Free Speech Systems filing for bankruptcy.
Lawyers representing some Sandy Hook families have accused Jones of draining assets from Free Speech Systems in recent years as part of an effort to protect himself from potential judgments he could be ordered to pay.
One of the attorneys, Avi Moshenberg, told CNN on Tuesday that the bankruptcy filing filed by Free Speech Systems showed that $62 million in assets were withdrawn from the company in 2021 and 2022.
“If you look at the bankruptcy filing, leading up to the declaration of bankruptcy, Alex Jones, the sole owner [of Free Speech Systems], took $62 million in drawdowns in 2021 and 2022,” Moshenberg told CNN. “Just direct draws. This is why the company has few assets.
An attorney representing Jones did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning. But a hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at which W. Marc Schwartz, Free Speech Systems’ director of restructuring, is expected to testify.
CNN’s Sonia Moghe contributed to this report.