AUSTIN (KXAN) — The last nine years have been a living hell for Neil Heslin, the father of a 6-year-old boy killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, according to his testimony at Alex Jones’ defamation trial.
He blamed that “hell” on Jones, the Austin-based talk show host, for calling the shooting a hoax and discussing conspiracy theories about it on his site, Infowars. Heslin likened Jones to a “match that started a fire.”
Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the mother of his son, are suing Jones for defamation and emotional damages.
They arrived at the Travis County courthouse Tuesday morning with a security detail. Their attorneys explained the two parents had faced “run-ins” over the weekend and needed to be in protective custody.
One of their attorneys, Mark Bankston, said he told his clients he was proud of them for taking the stand but knew this was going to be a “rough day.”
“While this trial has focused a lot on the antics of Mr. Jones,” Bankston said, “the real story of this trial is what happened to Neil and Scarlett.”
The family’s attorneys put up a photo of Heslin and Scarlett’s son, Jesse, in front of the court. Heslin described his son as a “force who came into the room and an “old soul.” Lewis later described Jesse as “larger than life.”
Heslin then described the day he held his son’s body, telling the jury, “I lied about nothing. I’m here in this courtroom telling the truth.”
Earlier in the trial, another Infowars’ host previously testified about a 2017 broadcast where he questioned Heslin’s statement that he held his son with a bullet hole in his head.
Heslin says he first heard the conspiracy theory that Sandy Hook was fake in 2013, but “as time went on, I realized how truly dangerous it was.” He said people began confronting him on the street and in public about these theories – and that became “a way of life.” The father said any apology at this point would not be sincere, which is why he and Lewis are asking for accountability.
Jones did not appear at the courthouse for Heslin’s testimony, but instead was broadcasting live on Infowars. The family’s attorneys played a clip of the broadcast, where Jones called Heslin “slow” and said he was being manipulated.
Jones’ team — and later Jones, who arrived the the courthouse during the lunch break — argued the clip left out the parts of the broadcast where he acknowledged the parents as real parents who lost their child.
Lewis spoke to Jones directly from the witness stand.
“I know there are hoaxes that are out there, but this was an incredibly real event. I lived it, and it is unbelievable that you continue to say it didn’t happen,” she said.
Jones was seen shaking his head when Lewis asked him if he continued to promote the conspiracy for monetary gain.
“You don’t understand the net that is cast in a negative way. You don’t understand that, and I don’t think you will understand unless there is some form of punishment that is significant — that would make you understand this is real. This isn’t staged,” she said, referring to testimony from one of his producers last week.
In interviews outside the courtroom, Jones has insisted he is being robbed of his right to a trial by jury, since the judge already ruled him liable in this case by default — for failing to produce evidence and follow court orders. The jury in this trial will be tasked with deciding how much money he owes Heslin and Lewis, not with determining his liability in the case.
Within minutes of being sworn in a witness, Jones told the parents, “I never intentionally tried to hurt you.” He then insisted he never said their names until this litigation was filed.
Jones explained his show functions as a talk radio show, where callers can share their opinion and where the hosts read news articles by Infowars writers, or other outlets, and discuss the contents.
“Whatever it is [the audience] can choose to go look it up for themselves. We are just covering what is in this,” he said.
Lately, Jones said they have been sharing opinions less frequently because “bad guys” will “edit tapes” to misrepresent what was said on the show. He said Infowars didn’t send any writers to Uvalde, following the shooting at Robb Elementary School where 19 students and two teachers were killed.
He said he wouldn’t “touch” recent incident “with a ten-foot pole,” despite conflicting reports about law enforcement response in Uvalde.
“We have definitely learned a lesson from this process — of not just things we did wrong, but how people misrepresent what we have done,” he said.
At one point, Jones told the jury he was bankrupt. After the jury was sent out of the room, the family’s attorneys called for sanctions on Jones and his defense team over the comments. Plus, they asked the judge to strike the comments from the record, so the jury’s decision would not be affected.
The judge issued a strong warning for Jones: “You must tell the truth while you testify. This is not your show.”