AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones testified Wednesday that he now understood it was irresponsible of him to declare the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre a hoax and that he now believed it was “100% real”.
Speaking a day after the parents of a 6-year-old boy who was killed in the 2012 attack testified to the suffering, death threats and harassment they endured Because of what Jones trumpeted on his media platforms, the Infowars host told a Texas courtroom that he truly believes the attack happened.
“Especially since I met the parents. It’s 100% real,” Jones said during his trial to determine how much he and his media company, Free Speech Systems, owe for defaming Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis. Their son Jesse Lewis was among 20 students and six educators who were killed in the attack in Newtown, Connecticut, which was the deadliest shooting in American history.
But Heslin and Lewis said tuesday that an apology would not be enough and that Jones should be held accountable for repeatedly spreading lies about the attack. They are asking for at least $150 million.
Closing arguments are expected to begin later Wednesday after further testimony from Jones, who described the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights.
Jones is the only person to testify in his own defense. His lawyer asked him if he now understood that it was “absolutely irresponsible” to push false claims that the massacre did not take place and that no one died.
Jones said yes, but added, “They (the media) won’t let me take it back.”
He also complained of being “typed as someone who talks about Sandy Hook, makes money with Sandy Hook, is obsessed with Sandy Hook”.
Jones’ testimony came a day after Heslin and Lewis told the courtroom in Austin, where Jones and his companies are based, that Jones and the bogus hoax claims he and Infowars made their lives a “living hell” of death threats, online abuse and harassment.
They led a busy day of testimony on Tuesday that included the judge chastising the pompous Jones for not being truthful with some of what he said under oath.
In a riveting exchange, Lewis spoke directly to Jones, who was seated about 10 feet away. Earlier today, Jones appeared on his broadcast program telling his audience that Heslin was “slow” and manipulated by bad people.
“I’m a mother first and I know you’re a father. My son existed,” Lewis told Jones. “I’m not in a deep state…I know you know…And yet you’re going to leave this courthouse and say it again on your show.”
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 he was called to testify.
Heslin and Lewis are among several Sandy Hook families who have filed multiple lawsuits alleging the Sandy Hook hoax allegations pushed by Jones led to years of abuse by him and his followers.
Both Heslin and Lewis said they feared for their lives and had been confronted by strangers at home and on the streets. Heslin said his house and car were shot. 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 that I and others have had to endure because of Alex Jones’ recklessness and negligence,” Heslin said.
Scarlett Lewis also described threatening emails that appeared to reveal deep details about her personal life.
“It’s fear for your life,” Scarlett Lewis said. “You don’t know what they were going to do.”
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 started the fire” with an online platform and broadcast which has reached millions of people around the world.
“What was said about me and Sandy Hook itself resonates around the world,” Heslin said. “Over time, I really realized how dangerous it was.”
Jones skipped Heslin’s testimony Tuesday morning while on his show – a move Heslin called “cowardly” – but arrived in the courtroom for part of Scarlett Lewis’ testimony. He was accompanied by several private security guards.
“Today is very important to me and it’s been a long wait…to stand up to Alex Jones for what he said and did to me. To restore my son’s honor and legacy,” said Heslin when Jones wasn’t there.
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 wasn’t holding his son.
The jury was shown a school photo of a smiling Jesse taken two weeks before he was killed. The parents did not receive the photo until after the shooting. They described how Jesse was known to tell his classmates to “Run!” which probably saved lives.
An apology from Jones wouldn’t be enough, the parents said.
“Alex started this fight,” Heslin said, “and I will finish this fight.”
Jones then took the stand and was initially combative with the judge, who had asked him to answer his own lawyer’s question. Jones testified that he had long wanted to apologize to the plaintiffs.
Later, the judge dismissed the jury from the courtroom and sharply reprimanded Jones for telling the jury that he had complied with pre-trial evidence collection even though he had not and that he was bankrupt, which has not been determined. Plaintiffs’ attorneys were furious that Jones mentioned he was bankrupt, which they say will taint the jury’s decisions on damages.
“This is not your show,” judge Maya Guerra Gamble told Jones. “Your beliefs don’t make something true. You are under oath.
Last September, the judge reprimanded Jones in her default judgment for her failure to turn over documents requested by the Sandy Hook families. A Connecticut court rendered a similar default judgment against Jones for the same reasons in a separate lawsuit filed by other Sandy Hook parents.
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.
Jones has previously tried 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.
Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber contributed to this report.
For more on AP coverage of school shootings: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings