AUSTIN (KXAN) — A forensic psychiatrist testified that two parents of a Sandy Hook victim live in “terror for their own physical safety” — not because of the trauma of the loss of their child, in his opinion, but because of threats from followers of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Dr. Roy Lubit testified before the jury about the mental, emotional and even physical effects suffered by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse, was killed by a gunman in the 2012 shooting. The parents are now suing Austin-based talk show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones over his claims that the shooting was fake and the parents could be paid “crisis actors.”
The trial continued into its second week, despite the media company behind his site, Infowars, filing for bankruptcy late last week.
On Friday evening, Jones’ attorney Andino Reynal alerted the court to the filing by Free Speech Systems, LLC, the parent company for Jones’ media operations, but said it would not halt the ongoing trial.
The trial was postponed earlier this year after Infowars and two of Jones’ other companies, Prison Planet TV and IW Health, also filed for bankruptcy. These cases were dismissed from bankruptcy court so this trial could proceed.
Heslin and Lewis are seeking $150 million in damages to compensate for defamation and mental anguish, attorneys explained. They have also asked the jury to consider additional punitive damages.
Mark Bankston, one of the family’s attorneys, said his clients had to deal with harassment, threats and confrontation from people who believed the shooting had been a hoax.
“Jesse’s legacy had now become tied with this,” he told the jury during his opening statements.
Lubit testified that Lewis used to host dinner parties for friends but no longer feels comfortable doing so. He said she fears for her safety, which is why she has a “sophisticated” security system and sleeps with a weapon within reach. He described how she refuses to turn on the air-conditioning unit because she worries the noise will prevent her from hearing “something she may need to hear.”
As for Heslin, Lubit testified that he believes his emotions have been “drained out.”
“Neil told me that he has nightmares about [Alex] Jones,” Lubit told the jury.
He described incidents in which Heslin said he was confronted, harassed, shoved and even had a bullet shot at his home. He believes these incidents “pushed them back, shoved them back into some of the earlier pain.”
He also told the jury the parents hired a “strong security detail” for the duration of the trial because they are afraid of Jones’ followers.
“It’s on their mind all the time. What’s on their mind is not the death of their child, but the threats, the attacks,” he said.
When Jones’ defense team began their cross-examination, Reynal asked Lubit about his 2018 campaign for Congress as a Democratic candidate in Connecticut and about his thoughts on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“The fact is you don’t like Alex Jones, right?” Reynal said.
Lubit replied, “I don’t like what he does.”
Reynal also asked Lubit how much of the parents’ anguish he believes comes from the ongoing lawsuit. Lubit told the jury he knows litigation is stressful, but he believes the parents were dealing with serious issues prior to the lawsuit being filed.
Lubit told the jury he did not directly treat Heslin and Lewis, but he consulted a psychotherapist — Michael Crouch — who did.
Crouch also took the stand, testifying that to his knowledge, the parents were healing until 2017. According to previous testimony during the trial, that is when Heslin spoke out about losing his son Jesse in an interview with Megyn Kelly and when the family began facing more targeted attacks.
Jones has also already been found liable for defamation in this case as well as in another case scheduled for trial in the Connecticut courts. Jury selection is scheduled to begin this week, according to the attorney representing the plaintiffs in that case.
Attorney Christopher Mattei said in a statement, “Mr. Jones has once again fled like a coward to bankruptcy court in a transparent attempt to delay facing the families that he has spent years hurting. These families have an endless well of patience and remain determined to hold Mr. Jones accountable in a Connecticut court.”
Jones, who continued to broadcast live throughout last week on Infowars, and his attorneys have insisted this trial is an infringement on his right to free speech.
Jones is expected to take the stand as a witness Tuesday following testimony by Heslin and Lewis.
Attorneys told the court Jones will be the last witness to take the stand before the jury begins deliberating the first portion of their charge: how much Jones owes the parents in compensatory damages.
More witness testimony is expected later in the week before the jury considers the possible amount of punitive damages owed.