Court Gives Sandy Hook Families Go Ahead for Defamation Cases Against Infowars' Alex Jones
The parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, who are suing Infowars host Alex Jones for defamation for saying the massacre was a "giant hoax," were given a green light to move ahead with their lawsuits against him, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday.
Twenty first-graders and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., were killed on Dec. 14, 2012, in one of the 5 worst shootings by a single gunman in U.S. history.
After the shooting, Jones took to his popular web talk show on Infowars.com, which has trafficked in various conspiracy theories, to spread baseless and inflammatory statements about the massacre.
Calling the mass shooting "a giant hoax," he told the millions who watch his show and visit his site that it was a "false flag" operation staged by crisis actors posing as grieving parents to strengthen gun control laws.
The lawsuits were filed in April 2018 in Texas, where Jones and the site are based, by Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was killed in the shooting, as well as Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, who lost their 6-year-old son Noah Pozner.
The suits "seek to address specific accusations made by Mr. Jones and Infowars in 2017 that our clients were participants in a sinister cover-up at Sandy Hook," Mark D. Bankston, an attorney with Kaster, Lynch, Farrar and Ball, in Houston, told PEOPLE at the time.
They are seeking in excess of $1 million in damages.
They say that Jones' statements defamed them, caused them emotional distress, and led people to harass them.
Over the past two years, Jones and his legal team tried to get two lower courts to dismiss the lawsuits against him and Infowars but failed.
Jones and his attorneys maintain that his comments are protected by the First Amendment.
He's changed his tune a bit since the suits were filed.
In March 2019, he said in videotaped depositions for the case that he now believes the shooting did take place and that his conspiracy theories about the massacre were caused by "psychosis," the Washington Post reported.
"I, myself, have almost had like a form of psychosis back in the past where I basically thought everything was staged, even though I'm now learning a lot of times things aren't staged," he said.
RELATED: Alex Jones Blames a Form of 'Psychosis' for Spreading Sandy Hook Conspiracy Theories
On Friday, the state's highest civil court rejected Jones' request to dismiss the lawsuits, without comment, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
Heslin tells PEOPLE he's glad the cases are moving forward.
"I'm looking forward to a resolution and my day in court," he says.
Among the falsehoods purported by Jones and Infowars were that Heslin never held his son in his arms after the shooting and that his son's body was never released to him.
Heslin says he can never erase the image of his son's body after the shooting. "I held my son," he says. "He had a bullet hole through his forehead. The bullet exited through the back of his head, where the wound was the size of a softball."
At Jesse's funeral, "he was in an open casket" that 5,000 mourners saw, he says. "The comments and the remarks themselves are harmful and damaging enough. They damage your credibility and reputation, not just on a local level but when they're broadcast and rebroadcast around the world."
RELATED: Pressure Mounts for Congresswoman to Resign for Endorsing False Claims School Shootings Were Staged
The shocking comments led Heslin to be "targeted" by Jones fans who believed what they heard on Infowars and harassed him, he says.
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De La Rosa, whose son, Noah, was the youngest child killed in the shooting, says of the win on appeal, "We are on the path to accountability and justice."
Noah's father tells PEOPLE, "Noah's mother and I live with a grief that will never heal, the loss of our son who had just turned 6 at the time of the shooting. Alex Jones, who profited off of defaming us and inciting others to harass and terrorize my family, continues to use legal wrangling to avoid being held accountable. The Texas Supreme Court's ruling moves us one step closer to justice."
Mark Bankston, an attorney representing the families, did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
Bankston has told PEOPLE in the past, "In all our years of helping families who have lost loved ones under horrific circumstances, we have never seen victims subjected to this kind of malicious cruelty. Their pain is unfathomable."
He told the Statesman, "We are pleased Mr. Jones is learning that his frivolous efforts to delay this case will not spare him from the reckoning to come."
Asked to comment on the case via email, an assistant for Jones' attorney replied, "Attorney Jay Wolman states in response to your inquiry that Mr. Jones is not trying this case in the press."
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