A Texas jury awarded the parents of one of the victims of the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School over $4 million in the damages trial of “Infowars” host Alex Jones. The conspiracy theorist and far-right broadcaster had earlier been found liable for defamation in a default judgment issued by District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble over his false claims the 2012 shooting was “a hoax” in repeated comments over the past decade.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse was one of 20 children and six adults killed during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, sued Jones and his media company, Free Speech Systems, in 2018. The couple originally sought at least $150 million in compensatory damages. Jurors voted first to determine how much of that Jones should be ordered to pay, and arrived at over $4 million. They will deliberate again to decide whether Heslin and Lewis are given an additional award for punitive damages, and, if they are, what that number will be.
“Neil and Scarlett are thrilled with the result and look forward to putting Mr. Jones’ money to good use,” a statement late Thursday from the attorneys representing the parents read, in part. “Mr. Jones on the other hand will not sleep easy tonight. With punitive damages still to be decided and multiple additional defamation lawsuits pending, it is clear that Mr. Jones’ time on the American stage is finally coming to an end.”
Judge Guerra Gamble, who presided over the defamation suits brought against Jones in Texas, issued rare default judgments last fall that found Jones and Infowars liable for defamation and emotional distress. The judge’s orders cited the harassment that Heslin, Lewis and other families of Sandy Hook victims endured at the hands of Jones’ followers as a direct result of his allegations about the shooting, in addition to the defendant’s “flagrant bad faith and callous disregard” for court procedures throughout the hearings.
Alex Jones walks into the courtroom in front of Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, the parents of 6-year-old Sandy Hook shooting victim Jesse Lewis, at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas, on July 28, 2022.
The Sandy Hook tragedy remains one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. Jones acknowledged in court Wednesday that he knows “it’s 100% real.”
But for years Jones claimed the shooting was “staged,” a “false flag” devised with intent to increase gun control, with “crisis actors” supposedly posing as the victims’ grieving family members. He publicized these allegations on his Infowars website, which features stories and videos promoting outlandish conspiracy theories and is widely considered a “fake news” machine. The site has published, and in several instances retracted, a number of blatantly false stories in addition to those related to the Sandy Hook massacre. Jones has faced multiple lawsuits — including some filed by other families of Sandy Hook victims — as well as accusations of discrimination and sexual harassment.
Court records show Jones made more than $165 million between 2015 and 2018 selling items like survivalist gear and dietary supplements on Infowars.
Free Speech Systems, the Austin, Texas-based parent company of Infowars, filed for federal bankruptcy protection last week. On Tuesday, Jones was scolded by the judge in court for telling the jury that he had complied with pretrial evidence gathering protocols and was bankrupt, when the latter had not yet been determined.
Jones lost several defamation cases by default last year. Lawsuits brought by families of Sandy Hook victims in Texas and Connecticut allege that Jones’ characterization of the shooting as a “giant hoax” led to years of subsequent abuse from his followers. A group of families involved in one lawsuit have additionally accused him of diverting funds away from Free Speech Systems before the bankruptcy filing.
Both Heslin and Lewis took the witness stand at the Austin trial this week and testified about how Jones’ efforts to spread lies about the mass shooting made their lives “a living hell.” The parents said those who believed the conspiracist and his claims about Sandy Hook went on to harass and threaten them verbally and physically. They recalled people shooting at their home and car and sending them threatening emails.
Scarlett Lewis, mother of 6-year-old Sandy Hook shooting victim Jesse Lewis, appears in court for the trial against Alex Jones, in Austin, Texas, on Aug. 2, 2022.
Briana Sanchez/Pool via REUTERS
“I can’t even describe the last nine and a half years, the living hell that I and others have had to endure because of the recklessness and negligence of Alex Jones,” Heslin said.
“It’s fear for your life,” Lewis said. “You don’t know what they were going to do.”
Jones appeared in court on Tuesday, allowing the plaintiffs to address him in person.
“I wanted to tell you to your face. … I am a mother, first and foremost, and I know you’re a father. And my son existed,” Lewis said, referencing Jones’ comments on Infowars suggesting she was an actor fronting some sort of government scheme. As Lewis noted, Jones seemed to continue promoting the idea on his talk series as recently as the morning before closing arguments.
“You’re still on your show today trying to say that, implying, that I’m an actress, that I’m deep state. You have, this week. And I don’t understand,” Lewis told Jones. “Truth – truth is so vital to our world. Truth is what we base our reality on and we have to agree on that to have a civil society. Sandy Hook is a hard truth.”
“Jesse was real. I am a real mom,” she said. “… I know you know that, and that’s the problem.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting.