Briana Sanchez/Austin American-Statesman 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 pushing claims that the murders were a hoax involving actors aimed at increasing gun control.
In more than an hour of emotional testimony during which he often fought back tears, Neil Heslin said he has endured online abuse, anonymous phone calls and harassment on the street.
“What was said about me and Sandy Hook itself resonates around the world,” Heslin said. “As time went on, I truly realized how dangerous it was. … My life has been threatened. I fear for my life, I fear for my safety.”
Heslin said his home and car have been shot at, and his attorneys said Monday that the family had an “encounter” in Austin after the trial began in the city and have been in isolation under security.
Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the 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 have endured for years because of Jones and his Infowars website. Jones claimed the 2012 attack that killed 20 first-graders and six staffers at the Connecticut school was a hoax or faked.
Heslin and Lewis are seeking at least $150 million in the case.
“Today is very important to me and it’s been a long time coming … to face Alex Jones for what he said and did to me. To restore the honor and legacy of my son,” Heslin said.
Heslin also said that while he doesn’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 that reached millions worldwide.
Heslin told the jury about holding his son with a bullet hole through his head, even describing the extent of the damage to his son’s body. A key segment of the case is a 2017 Infowars broadcast that said Heslin did not hold his son’s body.
An apology from Jones wouldn’t be good enough at this point, he said.
“Alex started this fight,” Heslin said, “and I’ll finish this fight.”
Jones wasn’t in court during Heslin’s testimony, a move the father called “cowardly.” Jones has skipped much of the testimony during the two-week trial and had a cadre of bodyguards in the courtroom when he did attend. Tuesday was the last scheduled day for testimony and Jones was expected to take the stand as the only witness in his defense.
Scarlett Lewis was also called to the witness stand Tuesday. She spoke much of her testimony directly at Jones, who had arrived in the courtroom.
“I am a mother first and foremost, 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 responded, before the judge admonished him to stay quiet until it was his turn to testify.
Heslin and Lewis suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that comes from constant trauma, similar to that endured by soldiers in war zones or child abuse victims, a forensic psychologist who studied their cases and met with them testified Monday.
Jones has portrayed the lawsuit against him as an attack on his First Amendment rights.
At stake in the trial is how much Jones will pay. The parents have 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 his company will pay punitive damages.
The trial is just one of several Jones faces.
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 issued default judgements against Jones without trials because he failed to respond to court orders and turn over documents.
Jones has already tried to protect Free Speech Systems financially. The company filed for federal bankruptcy protection last week. Sandy Hook families have separately sued Jones over his financial claims, arguing that the company is trying to protect millions owned by Jones and his family through shell entities.