Johnny Depp wins defamation case against Amber Heard as she wins one part of countersuit

After six weeks of testimony, the jury in the high-profile defamation trial returned a verdict following less than 13 hours of deliberation

Rachel Sharp,Graeme Massie
Thursday 02 June 2022 01:02 BST
Watch moment Johnny Depp wins defamation trial against Amber Heard

Johnny Depp has won his defamation case against Amber Heard, with a jury awarding him $15m (£12m) in damages.

But the jury also awarded Ms Heard $2m (£1.6m) for one part of her own counterclaim, that Mr Depp’s lawyer had called her abuse allegations against her ex-husband a hoax.

Seven jurors – five men and two women – returned their verdict on Wednesday, 1 June, after nearly 13 hours of deliberation spread over three days at the district court in Fairfax, Virginia.

But the reading of the verdict was dramatically delayed as the judge had to send the jury back out as they had failed to fill out the damages section of the form.

Mr Depp was not in court for the verdict but watched it on TV from the United Kingdom, where he is working and was spotted in a pub in Newcastle. Ms Heard was present for the reading of the verdict.

Fans of Mr Depp cheered wildly outside the courthouse as each verdict was read out.

In a statement, the actor thanked the jury for giving “me my life back. I am truly humbled”.

Following the verdict, Ms Heard released a statement that she was “heartbroken”.

“The disappointment I feel today is beyond words. I’m heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband,” she said.

Amber Heard is consoled by her attorney after a jury ruled she defamed Johnny Depp (Reuters)

“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously.”

And she added that the result was an attack on freedom of speech.

“I’m sad I lost this case. But I am sadder still that I seem to have lost a right I thought I had as an American – to speak freely and openly.”

Mr Depp sued his ex-wife Ms Heard for $50m (£40m) claiming she defamed him in an op-ed forThe Washington Post where she described herself as a victim of domestic abuse.

The Pirates of the Caribbean actor is not named in the article, however he claimed that it falsely implies that he is a domestic abuser – something that he says is “categorically and demonstrably false”.

Mr Depp alleged that the article – titled I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change – damaged his reputation and left him struggling to land roles in Hollywood.

The $5m (£4m) punitive section of the damages awarded to Mr Depp will be capped under Virginia law to $350,000 (£280,400).

Ms Heard countersued her former husband for $100m (£80.1m)claiming he launched a “smear campaign” against her. The counterclaim revolves around comments made by one of Mr Depp’s attorneys Adam Waldman to the MailOnline.

Mr Waldman, who is not representing Mr Depp in this trial, accused Ms Heard of lying about her allegations of domestic violence, branding her accusations “fake”, a “sexual violence hoax” and an “ambush”.

He also leaked audio recordings to the media.

Ms Heard claimed she lost career opportunities because of Mr Waldman’s statements.

Johnny Depp’s attorneys address supporters on Wednesday (Reuters)

Over the six-week trial beginning on 11 April, the court heard both Mr Depp and Ms Heard accused each other of abuse and give vastly different accounts of particularly violent incidents during their relationship.

Both actors took the stand where they gave emotional testimony over several days.

Dozens of witnesses also testified in the case including famous faces supermodel Kate Moss and actor Ellen Barkin, as well as psychiatrists, police officers, Hollywood agents, friends and relatives.

Mr Depp’s case centred around his claims that he never physically or sexually abused Ms Heard.

Instead, he claimed that Ms Heard was physically violent towards him.

Mr Depp testified across three days in April where he told the court that Ms Heard was the “perfect partner” in the early days of their relationship.

But the relationship then deteriorated into arguments where he said Ms Heard “berated” him and resorted to “demeaning name-calling” and an “endless parade of insults”.

Mr Depp claimed that it was Ms Heard who became physically violent during their fights.

In one now-infamous incident in Australia in 2015, Mr Depp lost the tip of his finger.

He testified that his finger was severed by Ms Heard hurling a glass bottle at him.

He told the court that his fingers were resting on the bar and the large vodka bottle “made contact and shattered everywhere”.

“I felt no pain at first all. I felt heat and as if something was dripping down my hand,” he said.

Johnny Depp testifies on 20 April 2022 (REUTERS)

“I was looking directly at my bones sticking out. Blood was just pouring out.”

The court heard a recording of a conversation between Mr Depp and Ms Heard where the couple were arguing about a separate fight.

“You punched me in the f***ing thing,” Mr Depp said.

“You figured it all out,” Ms Heard responded.

“I didn’t punch you by the way... I’m sorry that I didn’t hit you across the face in a proper slap. I was hitting you, I was not punching you. You’re not punched.”

Mr Depp also testified that, while he has struggled with drugs and alcohol issues, his ex-wife’s accounts of his substance abuse are “grossly embellished”.

He told the court that his drug and alcohol use was an “easy target” for Ms Heard.

When Ms Heard took the stand across four days, she told the court about several alleged incidents of abuse at the hands of Mr Depp.

Ms Heard testified that Mr Depp lavished her with gifts in the early days but soon began exhibiting jealous, controlling behaviour around her career and who she spent time with.

She told the court that, at the start of the violence, Mr Depp would “throw something, smash some things” and call her names like “whore”.

Ms Heard claimed that the first time Mr Depp hit her was when she laughed at his tattoo which reads “wino”.

“It’s seemingly so stupid, so insignificant. I will never forget it. It changed my life,” she said.

Amber Heard testifies on 5 May 2022 (Reuters)

She said Mr Depp slapped her in the face and said “you think it’s so funny? You think it’s funny, b****?”

On the stand, Ms Heard gave a vastly different account to Mr Depp of the moment he lost the tip of his finger in the Australia in 2015.

She testified that her then-husband pinned her down on a bar and sexually assaulted her with a glass liquor bottle.

“The next thing I remember, I was bent over backwards on the bar, meaning my chest was up. I was staring at the blue light. My back is on the countertop and I thought he was punching me. I felt this pressure on my pubic bone. I thought he was punching me,” she said.

“I could feel his arm moving and it looked like he was punching me. But I could just feel this pressure.”

Ms Heard said she lay in fear that the glass may have been broken inside of her.

On 27 May, jurors finally began deliberations after hearing closing statements where both parties claimed to be the victim and not the abuser, accused the other party of lying and insisted that they just wanted to get on with their lives.

Mr Depp’s lawyers told jurors that Ms Heard was the “abuser” and he was the “abused” during their tumultuous relationship.

“There is an abuser in this courtroom but it is not Mr Depp,” said attorney Camille Vasquez.

“And there is a victim of domestic abuse in this courtroom but it is not Ms Heard.”

Ms Vasquez said that Mr Depp suffered “persistent verbal, physical and emotional abuse” at the hands of Ms Heard and that, after the relationship ended, she continued the abuse by “falsely” accusing him of domestic abuse.

Johnny Depp’s attorney Camille Vasquez gives closing arguments at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse (EPA)

“What is at stake in this trial is a man’s good name. Even more than that what is at stake in this trial is a man’s life,” she said.

“The life that he lost when he was accused of a heinous crime and the life he could live when he is finally vindicated.”

She argued that Ms Heard had “lied” throughout the case, saying that she has “come too far” and now “can’t back down”.

“She’s lied too many times to too many people,” she said.

In the closing argument for Ms Heard, attorney Benjamin Rottenborn accused Mr Depp of carrying out a “campaign of global humiliation” against Ms Heard that sends a “message” to survivors of domestic abuse everywhere that they will not be believed.

“In trying to convince you that Mr Depp has carried his burden of proof in proving that he was never abusive to Amber on even one occasion, think about the message that Mr Depp and his attorneys are sending to Amber and by extension to every victim of domestic abuse everywhere,” he said.

“If you didn’t take the picture it didn’t happen. If you did take pictures they’re fake... That is the message that Mr Depp is asking you to send.”

He accused Mr Depp’s team of “victim blaming” and told jurors that Mr Depp’s case had fallen apart because he has not proven that he never abused his ex-wife even “just one time”.

Upon receiving the case on 27 May, the seven-person jury was tasked with reaching a verdict on both Mr Depp’s claim and Ms Heard’s counterclaim.

To start, the jury had to reach a verdict about whether or not Ms Heard did defame Mr Depp in the opinion article.

One fan holding a banner outside Fairfax County Courthouse in support of Johnny Depp (The Independent)

The burden of proof was on Mr Depp to prove that Ms Heard’s op-ed is about Mr Depp, is defamatory and false and that the statements were made with actual malice.

The jury also had to reach a verdict about whether or not Mr Waldman – while acting as an agent for Mr Depp – did defame Ms Heard in his statements to the media.

The burden of proof was on Ms Heard to prove that Mr Waldman’s comments were about Ms Heard, were false and that the statements were made with actual malice.

Outside of the courtroom, there has been a huge online obsession with the case with bizarre conspiracies claiming Ms Heard snorted cocaine on the stand, to fandom around Mr Depp’s attorney Camille Vasquez, to viral videos of moments in the courtroom.

“Social media has weaponised this trial,” Evan Nierman, CEO of Red Banyan Crisis PR firm and author of book Crisis Averted, told The Independent.

“More people are drawing conclusions about guilt or innocence based on online curated content than they are the facts in the courtroom.”

Witnesses called to the trial included Mr Depp’s ex-girlfriend Kate Moss (AP)

Social media users have been vastly skewed in Mr Depp’s favour.

On TikTok, the hashtag #johnnydeppisinnocent had 4.9 billion uses by Wednesday, while #justiceforjohnnydepp had 15.7 billion uses.

Similar hashtags in support of Ms Heard had only a fraction of the use, with justiceforamberheard racking up 52.1 million uses while #amberheardisinnocent had just 4.1 million. #Amberturd meanwhile had three billion uses.

Fans of Mr Depp have also been lining the streets outside the courthouse in support of the Pirates star to catch a glimpse of him entering the courthouse and to try to get one of the limited spaces in the public gallery each morning.

Speaking in the line for a gallery seat on 26 May, Yvonne Deboer told The Independent that she had taken a year off work to come to Virginia from her home in Los Angeles for the duration of the trial and had camped out every night to get a seat inside the courtroom.

“I love him dearly. I believe him and I’m here just for him, to support him,” she said of Mr Depp.

While Mr Depp was cheered as he drove past the crowd, Ms Heard was met by boos and jeers.

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