Tuesday, Aug. 09, 2022|
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AUSTIN, Texas — For years, bombastic far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones ranted to his millions of followers that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax, that children weren’t killed and that parents were crisis actors in an elaborate ruse to force gun control.
Under oath and facing a jury that could hit him with $150 million or more in damages for his false claims, Jones said Wednesday he now realizes that was irresponsible and believes that what happened in the deadliest school shooting in American history was “100% percent real.”
Jones’ public contrition came on the final day of testimony in a two-week defamation lawsuit against him and his Austin-based media company Free Speech Systems brought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of a 6-year-old Jesse Lewis. Their son was a first grader who was among the 20 students and six teachers killed at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.
“I unintentionally took part in things that did hurt these people’s feelings,” said Jones, who also acknowledged raising conspiracy claims about other mass tragedies, from the Oklahoma City and Boston Marathon bombings to the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida, “and I’m sorry for that.”
But an apology isn’t enough for Heslin and Lewis. They said Jones and the media empire he controls and used to spread his false assertions must be held accountable.
“Alex started this fight,” Heslin said, “and I’ll finish this fight.”
The parents testified Tuesday about a decade of trauma, inflicted first by the murder of their son and what followed: gun shots fired at a home, online and telephone threats, and harassment on the street by strangers, all fueled by Jones and his conspiracy theory spread to his followers via his website Infowars.
A forensic psychiatrist testified the parents suffer from “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” inflicted by ongoing trauma, similar to what might be experience by a soldier at war or a child abuse victim.
At one point in her testimony, Lewis looked directly act Jones who was sitting barely 10 feet away.
“It seems so incredible to me that we have to do this — that we have to implore you, to punish you — to get you to stop lying,” Lewis told Jones.
Courts in Texas and Connecticut have already found Jones liable for defamation for his portrayal of the Sandy Hook massacre as a hoax involving actors aimed at increasing gun control.
Now, Heslin and Lewis are asking the jury in Austin for $150 million in compensation for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They will also ask the jury to assess additional punitive damages.
Jurors began considering damages Wednesday. Once they determine whether Jones should pay the parents compensation for defamation and emotional distress, it must then decide if he must also pay punitive damages. That portion will involve a separate mini-trial with Jones and economist testifying to his and his company’s net worth.
Jones’ attorney asked the jury to limit damages to $8 — one dollar for each of the compensation charges they are considering — and Jones himself said any award over $2 million “would sink us.”
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