AUSTIN, Texas — (AP) — The parents of a 6-year-old child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have described being subjected to a “living hell” of death threats, harassment and of continued trauma over the past decade as they clashed with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who used his media platforms to argue it was all a hoax.
The parents 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.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse was killed at school in Newtown, Connecticut, took the witness stand Tuesday on the final day of testimony in the two-week libel damages trial against Jones and her media company Free Speech Systems. They are seeking at least $150 million in damages.
In a riveting exchange, Lewis spoke directly to Jones, who was seated about 10 feet away. Earlier today, Jones appeared on his broadcast program to tell 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.
Lewis continued to try to impress upon Jones that the Sandy Hook shooting and trauma inflicted over the ensuing decade was real.
“It seems so unbelievable to me that we have to do this – that we have to beg you, punish you – to stop lying,” Lewis said. “I’m so glad that day is here. I’m so relieved. And grateful… to be able to tell you all of this.
Jones visibly shook his head several times as Scarlett Lewis addressed him.
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 Jones 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 morning testimony 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 himself, initially being combative with the judge, who asked him to answer his own lawyer’s question. Jones testified that he had long wanted to apologize to the plaintiffs.
“I never intentionally tried to hurt you. I never said your name until it came up in court,” Jones said. “The internet had questions, I had questions.”
Later, the judge sent the jury out of 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. Plaintiff’s attorneys were furious that Jones mentioned he is bankrupt, which they say will taint the jury’s decision 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, Guerra reprimanded Jones in his default judgment for his failure to turn over 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 Sandy Hook parents.
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 victims of child abuse, a medical psychologist testified Monday. -legal who studied their cases and met them.
Closing arguments were expected on Wednesday after more testimony from Jones, who 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 liable for defamation for his portrayal 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.
Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber contributed to this report.
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