What happens next in the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard defamation trial and what are the possible verdicts?

Jurors began deliberation in high-profile case on 27 May

Joe Sommerlad
Tuesday 31 May 2022 09:01 BST
Heard's op-ed had basically no impact on Johnny Depp's career, expert says
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Divorced Hollywood actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard have reached the close of their acrimonious defamation trial in Virginia, which has created headlines across the world over six weeks and seen fans closely following proceedings on TikTok and Instagram and treating the case like a spectator sport, micro-analysing the evidence and cheering on their preferred side.

Mr Depp, 58, is suing Ms Heard, 35, for $50m (£40m) over an opinion piece she wrote for The Washington Post in December 2018 in which she discussed domestic abuse and experiencing “the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out”.

Although Ms Heard did not name her ex-husband in the article in question, Mr Depp’s legal team argues that readers were likely to assume he was the person responsible for the ordeal she alluded to and have claimed that the piece caused their client to lose out on lucrative film roles as a result of its publication.

Mr Depp is a prolific blockbuster star best known for his run of dark fantasy movies with director Tim Burton and for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise but was recently replaced in JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts series after being asked to step down by Warner Brothers.

Ms Heard, best known for Aquaman (2018), is counter-suing her former husband, whom she met when they starred together in The Rum Diary in 2011, for $100m (£80m), arguing that it is she who has been defamed by Mr Depp’s lawyers arguing that her claims to victimhood amount to a “hoax”.

Lurid details about what was clearly a highly dysfunctional marriage were aired in Judge Penney Azcarate’s Fairfax County courtroom, with friends, former staff and clinical psychologists all taking to the witness box to offer expert testimony.

Celebrity acquaintances of the two actors have also added to the media circus surrounding the trial, with Mr Depp’s ex-partners Winona Ryder and Vanessa Paradis joining former co-stars Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Eva Green in speaking out on his behalf while Julia Fox, Howard Stern and Kathy Griffin are among those to have expressed support for Ms Heard.

Amber Heard gives evidence
Amber Heard gives evidence (AP)

The trial’s dramatic final week saw British supermodel Kate Moss, 48, make a virtual appearance to take questions on her past relationship with Mr Depp in the mid-1990s after Ms Heard alleged during her defence testimony that the former had once pushed the latter down the stairs.

Ms Moss told the court Mr Depp never pushed her down the stairs or abused her in any other way.

The court has sat every Monday to Thursday since 11 April and was originally scheduled to conclude proceedings on 19 May but had to implement a further week’s extension due to the sheer amount of evidence under consideration, ensuring the seven-person jury has extra time to digest the information with which it has been presented.

The trial ended on Friday 27 May when lawyers for both sides made their closing statements, after which the jury was asked to retire, deliberate and reach a verdict on whether or not, on the balance of probability, Ms Heard did defame Mr Depp in the Post article at the centre of the case.

If the jury concludes that she did, Ms Heard will be ordered to pay Mr Depp the $50m he is seeking in compensation for loss of earnings, although the court may recommend he is awarded more or less than that figure.

Even if the actor were not to receive the full amount he has demanded in damages, his team would still be expected to hail such an outcome as vindication for its arguments and pronounce their client’s reputation restored.

Johnny Depp in consultation with his attorney Ben Chew
Johnny Depp in consultation with his attorney Ben Chew (AP)

If the jury rules in favour of Ms Heard, Mr Depp will get nothing and could potentially be ordered to pay his former wife the $100m she has asked for in her countersuit.

Again, the jurors could conclude that that figure is too high or insufficient and recommend an adjustment accordingly.

Despite the excitable suggestion made by #JusticeForJohnnyDepp supporters on social media, there is no question that a verdict in favour of Mr Depp could lead to Ms Heard going to prison for perjury as this is a civil, not a criminal case.

In the unlikely event that any such charge was later to be made against her and successfully prosecuted by Virginia’s district attorney, it would be pursued as a separate matter from the present defamation trial.

As this is a civil case, another outcome open to possibility is that an out-of-court settlement could be reached between the two parties as was agreed when they divorced, although, given the apparently hostile nature of present relations between Mr Depp and Ms Heard, that seems unlikely in the extreme at this late stage.

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