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The defamation trial of conspiracy monger Alex Jones turned emotional Tuesday

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

In an Austin, Texas, courtroom, the defamation trial of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has turned emotional. A jury is deciding how much Jones should pay for inflicting grief and anguish on the family of a young boy who was killed in the Sandy Hook mass school shooting. The parents and Jones addressed each other for the first time in open court late yesterday, as NPR's John Burnett reports.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: It was not a full apology or a retraction, but it was the first time Alex Jones has expressed any contrition for the impact his broadcast lies have had on Sandy Hook parents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEX JONES: I never intentionally tried to hurt you. I never even said your name until this case came to court. I didn't even really know who you were until a couple years ago when all this started up.

BURNETT: Jones then launched into a defense of his InfoWars TV show and podcast, saying the internet had a lot of questions and that he was just...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JONES: Trying to actually find out what happened.

BURNETT: Instead of finding out what really happened, his program invented a narrative that the 2012 massacre of 20 first graders and six school staffers at a Connecticut elementary school was staged by the federal government as a pretext to crack down on guns, and there were no dead children, just actors. To which Neil Heslin, father of slain 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, had this to say when he took the stand earlier in the day - I can't even describe the last 9 1/2 years, the living hell that I and others have had to endure because of the recklessness and negligence of Alex Jones. His wife, Scarlett Lewis, said directly to Jones, it seems so incredible to me that we have to do this, that we have to implore you, to punish you, to get you to stop lying.

The parents said fringe followers of InfoWars who heard the conspiracy story have stalked them, made death threats, shot up their home and car and given them panic attacks. Their lawyer said the threats against Lewis' parents have continued in Austin, and they have to travel with a large security detail. The parents are seeking at least a hundred and fifty million dollars from Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, which last week filed for bankruptcy. On Tuesday, the clearly irritated state district judge admonished Alex Jones not to tell the jury he was bankrupt, not to use the courtroom as a performance and to spit out his gum.

The right-wing broadcaster has called the proceeding a kangaroo court. He says he's just an opinionated pundit trying to expose government lies under First Amendment protections. Closing arguments are expected today with a verdict by week's end. When this trial concludes, Jones faces two more legal actions.

John Burnett, NPR News, Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.
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