Alex Jones derailed Sandy Hook parents' grieving, therapist for victim's family says

FILE PHOTO: Alex Jones walks into the courtroom in front of parents of 6-year-old Sand Hook shooting victim Jesse Lewis in Austin
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By Jack Queen

(Reuters) -A psychotherapist for parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting told a Texas jury on Monday the false claims of U.S. conspiracy theorist Alex Jones about it caused them overwhelming grief and set back their treatment for years.

Jones, founder of the Infowars radio show and webcast, is on trial to determine how much he must pay for spreading falsehoods about the killing of 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.

Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of slain 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, are seeking as much as $150 million from Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems LLC. Both were expected to testify on Monday, but will now take the stand on Tuesday.

Jones is also expected to take the stand on Tuesday.

Psychotherapist W. Michael Crouch testified that Heslin had repeated nightmares about Jones and now lives in fear of the radio host's followers, whom he says send him death threats and harass him in public.

"You could see Neil change," Crouch said, adding that stopping Jones from spreading falsehoods became an obsession for Heslin.

Jones has already been found liable for defamation by Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, who issued a rare default judgment against him in 2021.

The defamation suit in Austin, Texas, where Infowars is based, is one of several brought by families of victims who say Jones’ followers harassed them as a result of his false claims.

During opening statements last week, lawyers for Heslin and Lewis said Jones led a "vile campaign of defamation" and must pay the price for his falsehoods.

A lawyer for Jones said he had already paid a price after being deplatformed in 2018 and losing millions of viewers. Jones has since acknowledged that the shooting took place.

Free Speech Systems filed for U.S. bankruptcy protection on Friday evening.

The Sandy Hook gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, used a Remington Bushmaster rifle to carry out the massacre. It ended when Lanza killed himself with the approaching sound of police sirens.

(Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)