AUSTIN, Texas ― Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones faced his first day in front of a jury Tuesday in a defamation case that will decide how much money he will have to pay to the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting after he spread lies about the child’s death.
Jones is being sued by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse, was killed when a gunman walked into the Newtown, Connecticut, school and killed 20 children and six adults. For years following the massacre, Jones used his conspiracy outlet Infowars to falsely claim the shooting was faked and that the parents were only pretending to grieve.
In his opening statement representing the plaintiffs, Houston attorney Mark Bankston of the firm Farrar & Ball laid out how Jones profited off the suffering of the families he lied about, all in the name of growing his audience so he could sell more products.
Jones stared impassively ahead throughout much of Bankston’s opening remarks, at times shaking his head as the prosecution described ― and refuted ― Jones’ series of increasingly preposterous lies.
“Jones told his audience that [Barack] Obama staged Sandy Hook ― and not that Obama ordered the murder of those children ― but that there were never even children at all,” said Bankston. “Jones said the school was fake, the parents liars, paid actors. The funerals fake, their tears fake.”
In one example, Bankston played an Infowars video from Sept. 25, 2014, in which Jones mocked the crying parents for mourning their dead children. He also claimed their deaths had been faked and that there are photos showing they’re still alive.
“Jones said there were photos of victims still alive,” Bankston emphasized. “This is so disgusting, so repulsive, that I feel silly standing here and telling you that’s false.”
In June 2017, Sandy Hook parent Neil Heslin sat for an interview with Megyn Kelly and tearfully recalled holding his dead son with a bullet in his head. Heslin said he hoped the interview would stop the harassment.
Instead, Jones doubled down. Jones went on Infowars the next day to call Heslin a liar, and “to retaliate against Neil for daring to speak out against years of cruelty,” said Bankston.
“Now, every single time Neil Heslin has to think about the last moments he spent with Jesse, he also has to think about this horrible man,” Bankston said, referring to Jones.
Jones’ attorney, Houston-based lawyer Andino Reynal, claimed in his own opening statement that Jones had a First Amendment right to be wrong about what he said about the shooting.
In front of a poster board on which he’d written “Don’t lie to the jury,” Reynal proceeded to distort Jones’ record and downplay the impact of Infowars’ 10-year Sandy Hook disinformation campaign, saying Jones was simply “concerned about government involvement” in the shooting.
Reynal told jurors several times that Jones “has apologized repeatedly.” Judge Maya Guerro Gamble later ordered that struck from the record and instructed jurors to disregard the claim. “Public retraction should not be considered as evidence,” she said.
Reynal also sought to distance Jones ― whom he referred to as “Alex” ― from the information presented on Infowars, instead blaming the experts Jones invited onto the show. They include “experts” like Wolfgang Halbig, a notorious harasser of Sandy Hook parents, who has repeatedly claimed the shooting never happened.
“Alex Jones was wrong to believe these people,” Reynal said. “But he didn’t do it out of spite, he did it because he thought it was important coverage.”
Judge Gamble, who is overseeing this week’s trial, previously issued a default judgment against Jones after he failed to produce court-ordered discovery documents. The ruling meant Jones and Infowars were held liable for all damages, and now a jury will decide how much he will have to pay to Heslin and Lewis.
The jury will look at two factors: how much Jones should pay for damages, and how much additional money he should pay based on his net worth.
Jones also lost three other Sandy Hook defamation cases under rulings of default judgments. He’ll face a jury again in September, this time in Connecticut, to find out how much more money he’ll have to pay.
Jones did not attend the second half of the day’s trial.
Instead, as Sandy Hook lead investigator Daniel Jewiss tearfully told the jury about the families being harassed by conspiracy theorists, Jones was back on Infowars, complaining about the judge in the case and selling supplements.