Tuesday, June 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Alex Jones appears in Texas court for damages phase of Sandy Hook defamation case

In opening arguments, attorneys for the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Connecticut elementary school shooting detailed the Infowars host’s baseless claims that the massacre was staged and asked jurors to award them $150 million in damages.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — A trial to determine how much Infowars host Alex Jones must pay the parents of a child who died in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting kicked off Tuesday in Texas state court.

Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, sued Jones and his company Free Speech Systems LLC for defamation and emotional distress in Travis County District Court.

Originally filed by Heslin in 2018, the lawsuit stems from Jones’ repeated claims on his Austin-based talk show that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax perpetrated by the government to enact gun control legislation.

Following jury selection on Monday, Travis County Judge Maya Gamble began the trial Tuesday by defining what the jury is required to do in this case.

“We are not here to determine whether Mr. Jones or Free Speech Systems defamed or intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Mr. Heslin or Ms. Lewis,” said Gamble. “The court has already found that they have committed these actions.”

The second part of this bifurcated trial will be to determine the amount of the damages Jones and Free Speech Systems will have to pay for their defaming and distressing statements made over five years of covering the shooting.

Mark Bankson, an attorney representing Heslin, focused his opening statements on the influence Jones amassed by making false claims related to the shooting and the anguish it represented to victims' families.

"Alex Jones came along and took [Heslin's last memory of his son], that beautiful memory, and he ruined it, tarnished it, made it ugly," Bankston said. "Now every single time that Neil Heslin has to think about the last moments he spent with Jesse, he also has to think about this moment."

The attorney played clips of Jones on his online show calling the shooting staged, a hoax and synthetic. In addition, a clip was played in which another Infowars host, Owen Shroyer, cast doubt on Heslin's account of seeing his son's body.

Bankston told the jury that they have two tasks in this case: determining the amount of money that the parents are owed for the harm caused to them and deciding how much money will sufficiently punish Jones for his actions.

The exact amount Bankston requested is $150 million. To reach that figure, he told the jury that it was one dollar for each of the 75 million Americans who believes the claims made by Jones plus another $75 million for the emotional damage Heslin and Lewis have sustained.

“Now that is a huge verdict to be sure, but it is one that will do justice to the level of harm done in this case,” Bankston said.

Representing Jones and Free Speech Systems is attorney Andino Reynal. In his opening statements, Reynal addressed his client's status as a controversial figure but refuted his level of influence.

“When you look at the totality of the coverage, the evidence will be that Infowars coverage of the Sandy Hook incident between 2012 and 2018 was less than one-half of 1% of its total coverage,” Reynal said.

Laying out his timeline of events, Reynal said that Jones and Infowars were covering the shootings as well the questions people known as truthers were asking. These truthers were on the extremes and for a time Jones himself was taken in by the movement, according to the attorney. Reynal said that Jones was wrong to believe these people and never acted out of spite against the parents of the slain children.

“The evidence will show that [Jones covered these truthers] because he thought it was important coverage and thought that they had a right to go on Infowars and say what their questions are,” he said.

Before wrapping up his opening statements, Reynal said his client has already been punished. Jones has been restricted from accessing the internet as a part of Judge Gamble’s 2021 default judgment finding he defamed Heslin and Lewis and intentionally caused them emotional distress.

In an interview with reporters outside the courthouse, Jones used the term "kangaroo court" to describe the previous ruling against him and the damages trial beginning Tuesday.

The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Categories: Civil Rights Media Trials

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.