For six weeks, actor Johnny Depp’s defamation case against his ex-wife Amber Heard stunned the nation, providing a rare example of high-profile #MeToo charges and counter-charges, including egregious accusations of physical assault, that fragmented in the public spotlight on the courtroom .
On Wednesday, a seven-person jury in Fairfax, Virginia, found Mrs. Heard had defamed Mr. Depp when she described herself in a 2018 op-ed in the Washington Post as a “public figure who represents domestic violence.” Mr. Depp received more than $10 million in compensation.
During the trial, Mr. Depp vehemently denied Ms Heard’s accusations that he had subjected her to repeated physical abuse which included punching, head butting and several cases of sexual assault. In a statement issued after the verdict, Mr. Depp thanked the jury, saying it had “restored my life”.
Ms Heard, who was in the courtroom while the ruling was read out, said in a statement afterward that she was disappointed “beyond words” with their findings.
“I am saddened that the mountain of evidence is still not enough to stand up to the unequal power, influence and influence of my ex-husband,” she said.
Ms Heard does not appear to be supported by the fact that the jury also awarded her $2 million in damages, and agreed that Mr. Depp’s lawyer had been defamed on one occasion. A spokeswoman for Ms. Heard, Elafer Hall, said she plans to appeal.
Such issues are often settled out of court, in part to avoid public scrutiny. The bitter accusations and embarrassing details in this case were broadcast not only in a public session, but also in front of the cameras broadcasting each accusation on television and live broadcasts, turning them into memes and discussing them on social media.
A 2018 editorial by Ms. Heard never mentioned Mr. Depp by name, but argued that it clearly referred to their marriage, which began in 2015 and broke up just over a year later, and that it was amiss. (Its first drafts were prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union, where Ms. Heard was an ambassador with a focus on women’s rights and gender-based violence.)
The jury agreed, finding it to contain several false statements, and presented with real malice.
Ms Heard hit back, claiming she was defamed in 2020 when one of Mr. Depp’s lawyers at the time dismissed her accusations as a “hoax” in comments to a British tabloid newspaper. The jury found that Mr. Depp had slandered Heard in one instance, when the attorney accused her of damaging the couple’s building and blaming Mr. Depp.
The ruling came as a surprise to many legal observers, who noted that a judge in Britain ruled two years ago that there was evidence that Mr. Depp repeatedly assaulted Ms. Heard. The ruling came in a defamation suit brought by Mr Depp after the British newspaper, The Sun, described him as a “wife beater” in a headline. The judge in that case had ruled that the defendants had shown that what they had published was “largely true.”
Ms Heard, 36, maintained throughout the trial that everything written in the opinion piece was true.
The combination of star power, sensational details, and cameras in the courtroom turned the trial into an internet mania. Memes and posts attacking Ms. Heard, created by some very loyal fans of Mr. Depp, have gone viral on the internet. Ms Heard testified that she had received thousands of death threats since the trial began and described the online mockery as “painful”.
Mrs. Heard said that she sometimes burst into sighs on the podium, and testified more than a dozen times that Mr. Depp was violent towards her. Ms Heard said that in a major incident in Australia in 2015, Mr Depp became “aggressive” after taking MDMA and attacked her, grabbing her by the neck, and at one point sexually assaulting her with an object that was Ms. I heard later decided to be a bottle.
“I look him in the eye and no longer see him,” Ms Heard testified. “I’ve never felt afraid in my life.”
McKenna White, a lawyer who advises people about the risks of publishing potentially disputed accusations of sexual misconduct, said she was concerned that mocking Ms Heard online might make some less likely to come forward.
“The utter destruction of Amber Heard will have an effect,” said Ms. White. “If you were someone who was worried about what would happen if you spoke up, this might have the same frightening effect that we’ve been trying to reverse all these years.”
Others saw the online backlash as a harbinger of what the jury would decide.
Imran Ansari, a lawyer representing Alan Dershowitz in defamation cases involving Virginia Joffrey, who has said she was a victim of Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking operation and accused Mr. Dershowitz of being a part of it, said which he denies.
Mr. Depp, 58, gave a very different account of their relationship – and of the trip to Australia – in which Ms Heard was the abuser. He testified that Mrs. Heard was once a friend who seemed “too good to believe”, but turned into a partner who mocked him, called him derogatory names, punched him and threw things at him.
In Australia, he testified that a vodka handle exploded in his hand and his finger was cut off. (She denied throwing the bottle at him and said she only hit him in self-defense or in defense of her sister.)
Johnny Depp defamation case against Amber Heard
In the courtroom. A defamation trial involving formerly married actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard has just concluded in Fairfax County Courthouse in Virginia. Here’s what you need to know about the case:
In his testimony, Mr. Depp – a superstar known for the films he made with director Tim Burton, including “Edward Scissorhands,” as well as his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Disney franchise “Pirates of the Caribbean” – attributed the decline of his acting career to Mrs. Heard’s accusations.
“It is very strange when one day you are Cinderella, so to speak, and 0.6 seconds later you are Quasimodo,” Mr. Depp said in his testimony. “And I didn’t deserve it.”
Several witnesses called by Mr. Depp’s lawyers challenged Mrs. Heard’s accounts of the violence, including police officers and the actor’s staff who stated that Mrs. Heard appeared intact at times when she reported bruising.
Others bolstered Mr. Depp’s reputational claim, including his agent, who testified that the actor had lost a $22.5 million deal to reprise his role in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise after Ms Heard’s op-ed was published. (A Disney production executive who gave her testimony said she had no reason to believe that the decision not to pick Mr. Depp was related to the opinion piece.)
Several of Ms. Heard’s witnesses, including her sister and a former makeup artist, testified to seeing injuries on Ms. Heard around the time of the reported abuse. The sister, Whitney Henriques, said she saw Mr. Depp forcefully hitting Mrs. Heard while he was wearing a finger splint.
The proceedings in Virginia often became a stage where the couple and several of their partners recounted some of the most intimate, embarrassing, and often contradictory accounts of their relationship.
Texts from Mr. Depp indicated that Mrs. Heard used insults and insults as “a worthless whore”. He captured an audio recording of Mrs. Heard calling Mr. Depp a “washed-out”, a “joke” and other recorded arguments in which they both seem to agree that they were violent with each other.
Depp’s drug abuse and addiction to opiates were repeatedly raised, but his lawyers argued that he never claimed to be a saint – only that he was not addicted.
“I can’t say I’m embarrassed, because I know I’m doing the right thing,” Mr. Depp said of the personal disclosures required at the trial.