Johnny Depp-Amber Heard Trial: What to Know

The defamation trial in Virginia between the actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, now entering its final two weeks, has become a fierce battleground over the truth about their relationship, with both sides accusing the other of repeated domestic abuse in what was an unquestionably tumultuous marriage .

Before a seven-person jury in Fairfax County Circuit Court, lawyers have questioned witnesses about the events of what has been described as a whirlwind romance that started on a movie set and soured into a barrage of fights and physical confrontations – the details of which vary widely depending on the account.

Mr. Depp, 58, sued Ms. Heard, 36, for defamation after she wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post referring to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” After more than a year of legal sparring, Ms. Mr. Heard then countersued Depp, alleging that he defamed her when his former lawyer released statements saying her allegations of abuse were a hoax.

Many of the allegations being aired in the courtroom have already been heard in a British case – which Mr. Depp lost – in which the actor sued The Sun newspaper for printing a headline that called him a “wife beater.”

Mr. Depp tested over four days last month, describing Ms. Heard as a mercurial partner who sought to instigate fights. Ms. Mr. Heard has been on the stand for two days, painting Depp as a controlling husband whose physical violence was often preceded by accusations of infidelity. Her testimony will continue on Monday, following a weeklong break.

The case, which started with opening arguments on April 12, is expected to go to the jury before Memorial Day.

Mr. Depp’s lawsuit, filed in 2019, revolves around the 2018 op-ed written by Ms. Heard titled, “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change. ”

The op-ed does not mention Mr. Depp by name, but in it, Ms. Heard wrote that two years before the article’s publication, she became a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”

In 2016, Ms. Mr. Heard was granted a temporary restraining order after showing up to a California court with a bruised face, writing in an application for the order that Mr. Depp had thrown a phone at her face at close range. (The actor denies this.)

In the application, Ms. Heard wrote that Mr. Depp had been verbally and physically abusive to her throughout their relationship, detailing a recent incident in which she said he grabbed her by the hair and violently shoved her to the ground. (Mr. Depp wrote in court papers that this was a lie and that she was the one who punched him in the face that night.)

Mr. Depp’s lawsuit asserted that Ms. Heard’s abuse allegations were an “elaborate hoax” that cost the actor his career and reputation.

“Mr. Depp brings this defamation action to clear his name, ”the actor’s lawsuit said.

The op-ed says that after she became a “public figure representing domestic abuse,” she started to experience a backlash to her career.

“Friends and advisers told me I would never again work as an actress – that I would be blacklisted,” she wrote. “A movie I was attached to recast my role. I had just shot a two-year campaign as the face of a global fashion brand, and the company dropped me. ”

She wrote that she saw “in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.” Ms. Heard was identified in the op-ed as an ambassador on women’s rights for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Terence Dougherty, general counsel for the ACLU, testedified in the case that an early draft of the op-ed, which was prepared by the organization’s communications department, referred directly to Ms. Heard and Mr. Depp’s relationship but that those references were edited out after conversations about the terms of a nondisclosure agreement related to their divorce.

Mr. Depp has argued that the op-ed clearly referenced their relationship.

Although the trial has become a sprawling inquiry into the couple’s marriage, one of Ms. Heard’s lawyers, Ben Rottenborn, tried to impress upon the jury in opening arguments the idea that, ultimately, the case rests on “one piece of paper” – this op-ed.

The jury is simultaneously considering Ms. Mr. Heard’s countersuit against Mr. Depp, which was filed in 2020.

Ms. Heard’s defamation claim is against Mr. Depp, but the statements it centers on came from his former lawyer, Adam Waldman, who told the British tabloid The Daily Mail that the actress’s allegations were an “abuse hoax.”

Her lawsuit claims Mr. Depp has “authorized and conspired” with Mr. Waldman, who was acting on the actor’s behalf, to “attempt to destroy and defame Ms. Heard in the press. ” (Mr. Waldman was not named as a defender.)

Mr. Depp testified that he had never struck Ms. Heard, or any other woman. Instead, he asserted that Ms. Heard was the aggressor in the relationship, engaging in angry tirades and “demeaning name-calling” that would often escalate into physical violence.

“It could begin with a slap, it could begin with a shove, it could begin with throwing a TV remote at my head, throwing a glass of wine in my face,” Mr. Depp said.

The actor gave his account of several confrontations at the center of the case, including an incident in 2015 when the couple was in Australia for the filming of the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. Mr. Depp testified that Ms. Heard was angry about a meeting she had with a lawyer about a potential postnuptial agreement and threw a handle of vodka, which shattered onto his hand, seriously injuring his middle finger.

“The tip of my finger had been severed and I was looking directly at my bone sticking out,” he tested.

During cross-examination, Mr. Rottenborn confronted him with text messages he sent to others in which he called Ms. Heard obscenities, including calling her a “worthless hooker.” Mr. Depp testified that he was ashamed about some of these text messages, suggesting that there was a certain level of creativity and exaggeration in the way he writes.

“When I write a text, especially if I’m in a particularly impassioned place, it’s a canvas, it’s a painting,” Mr. Depp said. “You choose your colors.”

Ms. Mr. Heard told a drastically different story about the couple’s relationship, accusing Depp of a “pattern” of violence that tended to involve him lashing out at her when he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. She tested that Mr. Depp’s anger would often escalate into physical attacks after he accused her of cheating on him, despite her denials.

“He would explode,” Ms. Mr. Heard said, recounting how Depp punched walls next to her head, shoved her to the ground and slapped her repetitively.

Her account of the incident in Australia involved Mr. Depp beating her and then sexually assaulting her after taking the drug MDMA, she said. Ms. Heard said he had been angry about several issues, including his suspicion that she had been having an affair with another actor.

She tested that Mr. Depp became “belligerent” and attacked her, hitting her in the face, throwing her across the room, ripping off her nightgown and grabbing her by the neck. She said he injured his finger when he grabbed a phone off the wall and smashed it into smithereens.

“I’m looking in his eyes and I don’t see him anymore,” Ms. Heard, who sometimes broke into sobs during her testimony, said. “I’ve never been so scared in my life.”

During that episode, she said, she smashed a bottle onto the ground and Mr. Depp threw bottles at her, missing her, causing her to slip around over broken glass during the struggle. At one point, Ms. Heard tested, Mr. Depp sexually assaulted her with a bottle.

Ms. Heard’s lawyers have released an extensive potential witness list, which includes Elon Musk and James Franco. (Ms. Heard exchanged texts with Mr. Musk about her marriage that were used as evidence in the British case, and she said in that trial that Mr. Franco saw bruises on her face after an altercation that is in dispute.)

Other potential witnesses include Mr. Waldman; Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU; friends of Ms. Heard’s who were present for key incidents in the case; and an executive from Disney, which decided against Mr. Depp appearing in the sixth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.

So far, Ms. Heard’s lawyers have called one other witness: Dawn Hughes, a forensic psychologist who testified that she believed Ms. Heard had PTSD from the spousal abuse she experienced in her relationship with Mr. Depp. That testimony conflicted with that of a psychologist called by Mr. Depp’s team, Shannon Curry, who testified that she did not believe Ms. Heard had PTSD but diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder. (Dr. Hughes rejected that diagnosis.)

Mr. Depp’s lawyers brought forward numerous other witnesses, including a sister who has acted as a personal manager, Christi Dembrowski; a physician, David Kipper, who said he treated the actor for opioid addiction; and the couple’s marriage counselor, Laurel Anderson, who said she saw “mutual abuse” in the relationship.

Ben King, the property manager at an Australian home where the couple stayed during their 2015 trip, testified about the damage he witnessed in the home after that incident, describing broken glass, blood drippings and a collapsed Ping-Pong table – as well as how he found Mr. Depp’s fingertip in a “scrunched up” piece of paper amid the wreckage.

The court also heard testimony from police officers who responded to a 911 call to Mr. Depp’s penthouse; Mr. Depp’s bodyguards; and his talent manager, Jack Whigham, who said Mr. Depp lost a $ 22.5 million deal to star in the sixth “Pirates” movie after the op-ed was published.

A judge found in 2020 that there was “overwhelming evidence” that Mr. Depp had assaulted Ms. Heard repeatedly during their marriage and that he had put her “in fear of her life.”

There appear to have been some restrictions placed on reference to the British trial in Virginia, but those have not been disclosed to the public. Ms. Heard’s lawyers have been allowed to reference testimony from the case, including Mr. Depp’s.

In the Virginia trial, the jury’s verdict must be unanimous but the jury does not have to find the evidence convincing “beyond a reasonable doubt” as in a criminal case. For either side to win, the jury would have to find that Mr. Depp or Ms. Heard proved by the greater weight of the evidence that they were defamed, and that they presented clear and convincing evidence that the other side had acted with actual malice when doing so.

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