For years, bombastic far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones screamed to his tens of millions of fans that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy was a hoax, that no children were slain, and that parents were pawns in a complex plot to enact gun regulation.
Jones claimed Wednesday that he now sees that was reckless and believes that what happened in the bloodiest school massacre in American history was “100% real” despite being sworn in front of a jury that may fine him $150 million or more for his fraudulent assertions.
On the last day of testimony in the two-week-long defamation trial against Jones and his Austin-based media company, Free Speech Systems, the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis made a public apology. The 20 kids and six instructors were killed at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, including their son, a first-grader.
Jones acknowledged making conspiracy theories about other major tragedies, such as the bombings of the Boston Marathon and Oklahoma City, as well as the shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida. She added, “I unintentionally took part in things that did hurt these people’s feelings, and I’m sorry for that.”
But Heslin and Lewis feel that an apology is insufficient. They said that Jones should be held accountable along with the media empire he runs and employs to disseminate his untruths.
Heslin declared, “Alex started this fight, and I’ll finish this fight.”
The parents described a decade of trauma in their testimony on Tuesday, beginning with the murder of their son and continuing with threats made over the phone and online as well as harassment by random people on the street, all fueled by Jones and the conspiracy theory he promoted on his website Infowars to his followers.
A forensic psychiatrist testified that the parents endure “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” brought on by persistent trauma, much like a war veteran or a child abuse victim might.
Jones has already been found guilty of defamation by courts in Texas and Connecticut for his portrayal of the Sandy Hook massacre as a hoax using actors intended to tighten gun laws.
Heslin and Lewis are currently requesting $150 million in damages from an Austin jury for slander and willful infliction of mental distress. Additionally, they will request that the jury award further punitive damages.
On Wednesday, the jury’s deliberations on damages began. Jones must pay punitive damages after they have decided whether he must compensate the parents for defamation and emotional anguish. Jones and economists will testify about the net worth of his and his company during a separate mini-trial for that component.
Any judgement exceeding $2 million “would sink us,” according to Jones. Jones’s counsel requested the jury to set a ceiling on damages of $8, or one dollar for each compensation charge they are considering.
After Jones finished his evidence, the family’s lawyer, Mark Bankston, took a creased dollar bill out of his pocket, showed it to Jones, and then set it down in front of the parents.
Kyle Farrar, the parents’ attorney, said to the jury in closing arguments, “Alex Jones planted a seed of misinformation the day Sandy Hook happened that lasted a decade.” And he continued to water that germ until it produced cruelty and wealth.
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In his testimony, Jones claimed that despite his previous attempts to retract the false allegations, “they (the media) won’t let me take it back.”
Jones has claimed that the lawsuit is an assault on his First Amendment rights and that he has been “typecast as someone who runs around talking about Sandy Hook, makes money off Sandy Hook, is obsessed by Sandy Hook.” Jones has been banned from major social media platforms for hate speech and abusive behaviour.
Videos of Jones and Infowars staff members discussing the Sandy Hook conspiracy and even making fun of Heslin’s claim in a 2017 television interview that he had held his deceased son Jesse’s body “with a bullet hole through his head” were shown during the eight days of testimony. Heslin told the jury about that encounter with his dead son.
Jones was the sole witness that appeared on his behalf. In cross-examination, the plaintiffs’ attorneys relentlessly attacked Jones, accusing him of lying and attempting to conceal evidence, including texts and emails about Sandy Hook and claims made in Jones’ videos over the years. Additionally, there were internal emails from an Infowars worker stating that “this Sandy Hook stuff is killing us.”
Jones was informed at one time that Bankston had unintentionally received the last two years’ worth of communications from Jones’ smartphone through his lawyers.
As soon as Jones said, “I don’t use email,” he was shown an email that was sent from his address and another from an Infowars business representative who informed Jones that the company had made $800,000 in gross sales of its products in a single day, which amounted to nearly $300 million in a calendar year.
Jones has already made attempts to avert financial harm to Free Speech Systems. Last week, the business requested federal bankruptcy protection. Sandy Hook relatives have filed separate lawsuits against Jones on his financial claims, alleging that the business is attempting to conceal the existence of millions that Jones and his family own through front companies.
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