AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Scarlett Lewis stepped onto the witness stand and looked conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in the eye, she was thinking of her son, Jesse.
Jesse was only 6 years old when he reportedly faced Adam Lanza, the young man who walked into Sandy Hook Elementary school with a gun on Dec. 14, 2012, and killed 20 children and six adults. Accounts at the time revealed Jesse yelled, ‘Run!’ — which helped some of his classmates escape the gunfire. Jesse was shot and killed.
Lewis, along with Jesse’s father Neil Heslin, sued Jones for defamation and inflicting emotional damage over repeated claims on his show, Infowars, that the shooting was fake, a hoax, or part of a government cover-up.
“Once I looked into his eyes, I knew that’s exactly what Jesse did to the shooter that came into his first-grade classroom,” she said, just minutes after a jury returned a multi-million dollar verdict in the case. “He stood up to the bully — Adam Lanza — and saved 9 of his classmate’s lives. I hope that I did that incredible courage justice when I was able to confront Alex Jones — who is also a bully. I hope that it inspires other people to do the same in their own lives.”
After two weeks of testimony in the case, the jury returned its second verdict: this time saying Jones should pay $45.2 million in punitive damages. Earlier in the week, the same jury awarded Lewis and Heslin $4.1 million in compensatory damages.
Jones, an Austin-based talk show host and founder of Infowars, took the witness stand and acknowledged his history of conspiracy theories about other mass tragedies, such as mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida. His defense team argued the claim ‘no one died at Sandy Hook’ did not originate with Jones, but rather guests and callers on the show. Jones told the jury they read through stories from other news outlets and leave it up to the audience to make their own assumptions.
Heslin and Lewis told the jury they were doubted, harassed and even threatened by people who bought into the claim that the shooting had been a hoax.
Jones told the jury giving this claim a platform was “absolutely irresponsible.” He also admitted that now believes Sandy Hook was “100% real,” especially after meeting these two parents.
The jury watched clips from Infowars throughout the week, including one where another host, Owen Shroyer, reads from another article questioning whether Heslin held his son “with a bullet hole through his head.”
“Just another question that people are going to be asking about Sandy Hook,” Shroyer said on the live broadcast.
Mark Bankston, one of the attorneys for Heslin and Lewis, said the goal of this verdict was to restore Jesse’s legacy, as well as the parents’ reputations, after comments such as this.
“It was impossible for either of them to think about Neil’s last moments with Jesse without thinking of this horrible man,” Bankston said.
Heslin got emotional when he had the opportunity to tell the jury about his last moments spent with Jesse, but Jones was not in the courtroom for the father’s testimony — which Heslin called “cowardly.” However, Jones arrived at the courthouse in time for Lewis’ testimony.
“In some way, you have impacted almost every single day of my life almost since Jesse’s murder,” she told him directly. “Jesse was real. I am a real mom. I know you know that. That is the problem.”
Bankston said Jones’ “worst mistake he ever made in this case” showing up to face Lewis.
“Once he showed up in that courtroom, Scarlett had a focus and a message and a thing to say that she could have never said to an empty chair,” he said.
Lewis said she hopes to use the money she receives as a result of the verdict for the Choose Love Movement, a program she started to fund and promote social-emotional learning in classrooms. She said improving the culture in schools is the “most important part of school safety.”
While it’s still unclear exactly how much money the parents in this case will immediately see, Lewis said the verdict returned by the jury could enable the movement to offer their program on an individual basis “for about one penny” — which Lewis said was her dream.
She had a message for any parents listening, too.
“Choose love with your kids — because you can,” Lewis said. “That means being present in the moment with them, looking into their eyes, giving them a hug and just moving from there — just every moment realize that you have a choice, and your choice is love.”
As for Jones, Lewis said she believes he has been held accountable with this verdict.
“Love is a choice. What he is putting out there — lies, hatred, fear — that’s a choice, too,” she said. “I hope, going forward, he will choose love.”