AUSTIN (KXAN) — Infowars host Alex Jones arrived at the Travis County courthouse Tuesday morning for the first day of his defamation trial.
Jones, who is being sued by several families of victims in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting after he called the incident a hoax, sat quietly with his attorneys as the courtroom filled with people.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, who lost their child Jesse in the shooting, sat across the aisle from Jones while their attorney played video clips from Infowars, where Jones speculated the attack was a coverup or a hoax.
Jones’ attorney, Andino Reynal, told the court Monday his client may not be attending portions of the trial due to medical issues, after a conversation with Jones’ doctor. He told the court his client wanted to attend.
In a five-minute conversation with media members outside of the courthouse Tuesday morning, Jones spoke against previous rulings by the court, which found the talk show host liable by default for damages in this case, before it went to trial. At the time, the judge cited a bad faith effort by Jones’ to cooperate with the proceedings and in producing evidence.
Jones pushed back on that, saying, “they have all our emails, all our documents, all our videos that we gave them.”
Jones went on to call the trial a “kangaroo court” and a “witch hunt.”
Reynal has called these proceedings an important First Amendment case, and he told the jury he believes in every American’s right to watch or say what they want.
A jury was chosen Monday in the case playing out in Texas. Those 12 jurors are tasked with calculating the number of punitive damages Jones owes, but also calculating the amount of money he owes the family for emotional damages.
According to the lawsuits filed by the families, Jones called some parents who lost their children “crisis actors,” and those widely publicized comments and theories resulted in the parents receiving death threats.
Mark Bankston, representing Heslin and Lewis, said they are asking for $150 million in compensatory damages and more in punitive damages. He told the jury that represents one dollar for each of the 75 million people who, his team will show, believed Sandy Hook was or could have been a hoax — to compensate Neil Heslin’s reputation. Then, he said they were asking for another dollar for each of those 75 million people to compensate for emotional damages suffered by the family.
“We do not protect defamation, false speech. Speech is free, but lies you have to pay for,” Bankston said.
Later he added, “You can put an end to the lies by punishing Alex Jones…make that Jesse’s legacy.”
In his opening arguments Tuesday, Bankston began by discussing Jones’ large online following — saying he “gained a position in media, maybe unlike any other media figure in this country.”
Bankston then listed various false claims made about the Sandy Hook shooting: that the school was not an operating school, that the death certificates of victims were sealed and that photos of the victims were of people who were “still alive.”
He called it “a massive campaign of lies” put on my Jones’ and guests on the show, which prompted Heslin to give an interview to Megyn Kelly in 2017 about losing his son.
“Neil was hopeful it would stop… It did not,” Bankston said, claiming Jones retaliated against Heslin.
“This trial is different than anything that has ever happened in this courtroom,” Bankston told the jury. He also said the family endured the most “vile campaign of defamation and slander in American history.”
In his opening remarks, Reynal said his client was “polarizing” but that he was “honored to represent him.”
“Not because I believe in everything he says, but because I believe in his right to say it,” he said.
He told the jury that “less than one half of 1%” of Infowars total coverage was spent on the Sandy Hook shooting and that “the ‘No one died at Sandy Hook’ lie” did not begin with Jones.
“You are still allowed to decide how much damage Alex Jones caused. You can assess whether his words made their way to the ears of the plaintiffs. You can assess whether anybody was moved to act by anything that Alex Jones said,” he said.
Reynal went on to say he believes the jury will see, “no evidence that it was Alex Jones, the talk show host, and not Adam Lanza, the mass murderer, that caused the mental anguish” of these families.
Witnesses take the stand
The first witness to testify was Detective Daniel Jewiss, a former Connecticut law enforcement official and the lead investigator of the Sandy Hook shooting.
“I don’t see an end to that role,” he said.
Part of that role, Jewiss said, was to “field” harrassment and misinformation directed at the victims’ families.
“These conspiracy theories is only second to actually losing their actual loved ones, and so I will continue to support them any way I can. That support just comes in the manner of telling the truth,” he said.
He said his team knew people denied what happened at Sandy Hook, and they grouped them into several categories by “level of threat”: those with mental health conditions, people who believed erroneous reports, and people who were going to “spin it for their own benefit.” Jewiss said they considered Alex Jones in the last group.
The jury also got to submit questions for the witness.
One asked, “How many hours or days after the shooting did [Jewiss] first see the scene of the crime?” He told them he saw the scene after one week.
Another asked about Jewiss’ testimony concerning information about the case that was published on the Connecticut State Police website. Jewiss told them it was posted there at the beginning of 2014.
Toward the end of the day, the Plaintiff’s attorneys called Daria Karpova, a producer at Infowars, to testify on Tuesday. Her testimony is expected to resume on Wednesday.
On Tuesday before the proceedings began, the attorneys also shared an exchange about whether a senior Infowars producer, Rob Dew, would appear.
Bankston told the judge earlier in the week that his team had subpoenaed Dew to show up for the trial, but that summons was not accepted. Bankston told Jones’ attorney they expected Dew in court for the duration of the trial.