Jury’s out: How Johnny Depp and Amber Heard each made their case for being a victim, not perpetrator, of abuse

After six weeks of testimony, the jury in the high-profile defamation trial finally began deliberating on Friday afternoon. Rachel Sharp reports from Fairfax, Virginia, on what you need to know about the case

Rachel Sharp
Fairfax, Virginia
Tuesday 31 May 2022 12:09 BST
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in two separate photos in court on 27 May where jurors were finally given the case
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in two separate photos in court on 27 May where jurors were finally given the case (AP)

The high-profile defamation trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard is finally drawing to a close after six weeks of courtroom drama that has been closely watched by millions around the globe.

Mr Depp is suing his ex-wife for $50m claiming she defamed him in an op-ed for The Washington Post where she described herself as a victim of domestic abuse.

Ms Heard is countersuing her former husband for $100m claiming he launched a “smear campaign” against her.

Since 11 April, the court has heard both Mr Depp and Ms Heard accuse 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.

On Friday afternoon, 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.

During closing arguments, Mr Depp’s lawyers told jurors that Ms Heard was the “abuser” and Mr Depp 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.

“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.”

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

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”.

Now, it’s down to the jury of seven to decide the verdict.

Amber Heard’s attorney Benjamin Rottenborn accused Mr Depp of carrying out a campaign of global humiliation’ (EPA)

Here’s what you need to know about the case:

The lawsuit

Mr Depp sued his ex-wife claiming she defamed him in a December 2018 op-ed published in The Washington Post where she described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse”.

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

Mr Depp claims that the article has damaged his reputation and left him struggling to land roles in Hollywood.

He is suing for “not less than” $50m.

The counterclaim

Ms Heard filed a $100m counterclaim against Mr Depp for nuisance and immunity from his allegations.

She accuses Mr Depp of orchestrating a “smear campaign” against her and describes his lawsuit as a continuation of “abuse and harassment”.

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 claims she lost career opportunities because of Mr Waldman’s statements.

The op-ed

The op-ed, published in December 2018, was titled “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change”.

In it, Ms Heard wrote that she “felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out” after she came forward as a victim of domestic abuse.

“Like many women, I had been harassed and sexually assaulted by the time I was of college age. But I kept quiet — I did not expect filing complaints to bring justice. And I didn’t see myself as a victim,” she wrote.

“Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”

The op-ed is displayed on screen as evidence in the defamation trial (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Johnny Depp’s testimony

Mr Depp’s case centres 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 two 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.

“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.

Johnny Depp returned to the stand on 25 May to testify in the trial (AP)

“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”.

“The characterisation of my substance, of my quote-unquote substance abuse that has been delivered by Ms Heard is grossly embellished, and I am sorry to say, but a lot of it is just plainly false,” he said.

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

Amber Heard’s testimony

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.

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.”

Amber Heard testifies at the Fairfax County Courthouse on 5 May 2022 (JIM LO SCALZO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

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

“I remember not wanting to move because I didn’t know of it was broken – I didn’t know if the bottle that he had inside me was broken,” she said.

“I couldn’t feel it. I didn’t feel pain. I didn’t feel pain. I didn’t feel anything. ... I looked around and I saw so much broken glass... I just remember thinking ‘Please God, please. I hope it’s not broken.’”

Ms Heard said the abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of Mr Depp was under the influence of alcohol and drugs, saying that they would refer to his alter ego as a “monster”.

What happens now?

Both sides have now rested their cases and delivered closing statements to the jury on Friday.

The seven-person jury is now deliberating on the civil case and will reach a verdict on both Mr Depp’s claim and Ms Heard’s counterclaim.

The jury must reach a verdict about whether or not Ms Heard did defame Mr Depp in the op-ed.

The burden of proof is 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.

If the jury finds that Ms Heard did defame Mr Depp, she will be ordered to pay him damages.

The jury will then determine the amount that Ms Heard should pay. They can recommend the full $50m or more or less.

The jury must also 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 is 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.

If the jury rules in Ms Heard’s favour, they will then determine the amount that she should be paid in damages by Mr Depp. Again, this could be more or less than the $100m she is seeking.

Beyond the courtroom

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.”

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

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

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 Thursday morning, 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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