AUSTIN — On Dec. 14, 2012, Alex Jones was broadcasting live on his show Infowars. A gunman had entered Sandy Hook Elementary school, ultimately shooting and killing 20 children and six adults.
“It’s more than these dead, poor children. You got to go with your gut,” the Austin-based talk show host told his audience.
Jones speculated about whether the gunman was a “patsy” in a government cover-up or just a “Prozac head,” which is a term he and his team at Infowars used to describe someone taking psychiatric medication, KXAN reports. He said he worried the “mainstream media” or government was going to “exploit this tragedy…in the name of taking our guns away.”
The entire, 50-minute show was played before the jury, which is tasked with deciding how much Jones’ owes Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis. They are the parents of Jesse Lewis, who was killed in the shooting that day. They sued Jones and his company for defamation and inflicting emotional damages.
Throughout the trial, the family’s attorneys have played other Infowars videos from the years following the shooting: one where Jones claimed “the whole thing was fake;” another where he speculated the parents of victims were “crisis actors” being paid to pretend they were grieving.
On Thursday morning, Heslin and Lewis sat in the courtroom and watched the full 50 minutes of Jones’ coverage from the day they lost Jesse.
“It’s difficult for them,” their attorney Mark Bankston told KXAN News earlier in the week, when asked about how his clients were feeling. “But they knew this was coming. They have been sort of been emotionally preparing themselves to go through all of this. But it’s not easy.”
Bankston said Heslin and Scarlett know “this case is bigger than them.”
Alex Jones’ attorney, Andino Reynal, has said this case is a fight for the First Amendment. An Infowars producer called to testify, Daria Karpova, has repeatedly insisted Jones was “genuine” in his beliefs and only ever spoke about his own “opinion.”
However, in his opening statements to the jury on Tuesday, Bankston argued there was a clear distinction between protected free speech and defamation. He also reminded the jury that a judge has already found Jones liable for defamation.
“We do not protect defamation, false speech. Speech is free, but lies you have to pay for,” he said.
Bankston told KXAN it was important for Heslin and Lewis to attend these proceedings, while pointing out that Alex Jones has been seen walking “in and out” of the courtroom. Later, his co-counsel Kyle Farrah clarified that Jones has been leaving to conduct his live broadcast, where he has been discussing the trial.
“We’re busy. We’re up in the courthouse. We’re there to have a trial. We’re there to have a day in court,” Bankston said. “He can do all the circus he wants. We’re doing justice inside.”
He added, “One of the things I have learned in this case, is these parents are the bravest people you will ever meet. They have lived in this media spotlight for years, and they know they need to finish this saga and finish it the right way.”
Clip conflict in the courtroom
Before the jury arrived in the courtroom Thursday morning, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble directed attorneys to take any future fights outside the courtroom.
She gave the charge after Wednesday’s court proceedings ended in a public, heated argument between the lead attorneys in the case over which videos from Jones’ show can be admitted as evidence before the jury.
The parents of Jesse Lewis, a child who was killed during the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, have sued the Austin-based conspiracy theorist and talk show host over comments he made on his show claiming the shooting was a hoax. A jury has been tasked with deciding how much Jones owes the family in damages for defamation and inflicting mental anguish, which Jones has already been found liable for by the court.
Judge Gamble told attorneys for both parties if they want to get any more videos admitted as evidence, “Now is your chance.”
The attorneys disagreed about what portions of these videos had already or could be admitted under the rules of discovery.
Reynal said he intended to play longer versions of some of the video clips that are featured on a long list of videos submitted as evidence by the plaintiffs. He said he believed it was important for the jury to see “what kind of atmosphere” his client created with his coverage of the shooting.
Bankston said he worried the content of certain videos Jones’ team was proposing to admit could contain hearsay. He also said he could not verify their authenticity or find their source.
“I don’t know what was done to them,” he said, adding he could not say that “Mr. Jones hasn’t gone back into the editing room and edited these videos.”
The judge asked Reynal, “Were they disclosed properly? At the proper time and the proper way?”
She went on to ask whether this was “another instance” of his team trying to subvert the legal process and ignore the rules of evidence.
In her default ruling against Jones last fall, which found Jones liable in this case, Gamble cited Jones’ “flagrant bad faith and callous disregard” of court orders to turn over documents to the opposing attorneys.
On Thursday morning, Judge Gamble called for a break to review 18 minutes of video Jones’ attorney was attempting to get admitted during the trial. She denied that motion, but the court did watch the 50 minute live broadcast from December 14 and another “special report” produced by Jones and his team.
The majority of Wednesday and Thursday’s proceedings saw Infowars producer Daria Karpova on the stand. She told the jury Jones’ demeanor has changed over the last few years.
“I think his mood, his health, his general demeanor… He is always stressed out,” she said. “This whole Sandy Hook thing has weighed heavily on him,” she said.
She said when people hear about Sandy Hook, they think of Alex Jones’ name instead of the name of the gunman.
“They think Alex Jones was responsible,” she said.
The attorney for the family Mark Bankston responded, “So, when people lie about you, it affects you negatively? It affects your well-being and your health? That’s what has happened to Alex Jones? Do you understand the irony and hypocrisy of making that statement in this courtroom right now?”
Later, she stated it was “hard to compare” the grief of the parents to what Alex had suffered because of the “lies” being told about him.
Bankston pushed back on points from Karpova’s earlier testimony, including asking her whether she knew parents of the victims had already tried to speak with Jones, prior to a 2017 segment on his show where he offered to have the parents on to talk.
He then attorney reminded Karpova that earlier in the week, she had already read an email from one of these parents, sent to company, out loud on the stand during her testimony.
When that 2017 Infowars segment was played earlier in the day, Karpova had said that no one responded to his offer and added, “Alex could have been an advocate for these parents.”
The jury go the opportunity to ask the witness questions.
One asked, “Do you believe this trial is a somehow staged event?”
Karpova responded, “I believe this trial is not about Alex Jones. I believe this trial is about chilling free speech.”
The judge reminded her that was not the question and said, “Yes or No will do.”
Karpova then answered, “To a large extent, yes.”
Jones spoke to reporters after Thursday’s proceedings. He maintains his belief that the trial is a “show trial” and that he is being denied a trial by jury, since he was already found liable by the judge in this case.
Jones has said his team turned over all the evidence requested. KXAN asked when those documents were turned over, and Jones replied “years ago,” and claimed the judge referred to “made up” documents when she issued her default ruling.