Briana Sanchez/US Statesman from Austin via AP, Pool
AUSTIN, Texas — The father of a 6-year-old boy killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting testified Tuesday that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones made his life a “living hell” by claiming the murders were a hoax involving actors aimed at strengthening gun control.
In more than an hour of moving testimony in which he often fought back tears, Neil Heslin said he suffered online abuse, anonymous phone calls and street harassment.
“What was said about me and Sandy Hook itself resonates around the world,” Heslin said. “Over time, I really realized how dangerous it was. … My life was threatened. I fear for my life, I fear for my safety.”
Heslin said her home and car were shot, and her attorneys said Monday the family had a “meeting” in Austin after the trial began in the city and were isolated in safe custody.
Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, have sued Jones and his media company Free Speech Systems over the harassment and threats they and other parents say they endured for years because of Jones and his Infowars website. Jones claimed the 2012 attack that killed 20 freshmen and six Connecticut school staff was a hoax or fake.
Heslin and Lewis are asking for at least $150 million in the deal.
“Today is very important to me and it took time to stand up to Alex Jones for what he said and did to me. To restore my son’s honor and legacy,” Heslin said.
Heslin also said that while he didn’t know if the Sandy Hook hoax theory originated with Jones, it was Jones who “lit the match and started the fire” with an online platform and broadcast. which has reached millions of people around the world.
Heslin told the jury that he held his son with a bullet hole in his head, even describing the extent of the damage done to his son’s body. A key segment of the case is a 2017 Infowars show that said Heslin was not holding her son’s body.
An apology from Jones would not be enough at this point, he said.
“Alex started this fight,” Heslin said, “and I will finish this fight.”
Jones was not in court when Heslin testified, a move the father called “cowardly.” Jones skipped much of the testimony during the two-week trial and had a group of bodyguards in the courtroom when he showed up. Tuesday was the last day scheduled for testimony and Jones was scheduled to take the stand as the only witness in his defense.
Scarlett Lewis was also called to the witness stand on Tuesday. She spoke much of her testimony directly to Jones, who had arrived in the courtroom.
“I am first and foremost a mother and I know you are a father,” Lewis said. “My son existed…I know you know that.”
At one point, Lewis asked Jones, “Do you think I’m an actor?”
“No, I don’t think you’re an actor,” Jones replied, before the judge urged him to shut up until it was his turn to testify.
Heslin and Lewis suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that stems from constant trauma, similar to that endured by soldiers in war zones or child abuse victims, a forensic psychologist testified on Monday. who studied their cases and met them.
Jones described the lawsuit against him as an attack on his First Amendment rights.
What is at stake in the lawsuit is how much Jones will pay. The parents asked the jury to award $150 million in compensation for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury will then consider whether Jones and company will pay punitive damages.
The lawsuit is just one of the many faces of Jones.
Courts in Texas and Connecticut have already found Jones defamation for its depiction of the Sandy Hook Massacre as a hoax. In both states, judges entered default judgments against Jones without a trial because he failed to respond to court orders and turn over documents.
Jones has previously attempted to financially protect Free Speech Systems. The company filed for federal bankruptcy protection Last week. The Sandy Hook families sued Jones separately for his financial claims, arguing that the company is trying to shield millions belonging to Jones and his family through shell entities.