SFor six weeks, Johnny Depp (58) is in the courtroom every day, mostly with tinted glasses and thick rings on his hands. Sometimes he grins, but he often looks down while his explosive relationship with actress Amber Heard (36) is publicly rolled out. But on Wednesday, when the seven jurors awarded him a victory over the ex-wife, the Pirates of the Caribbean star was absent from court. Only his legal team is represented. After the end of the trial, Depp traveled to England for concert appearances.
Dressed in black, Heard listens with his eyes downcast as the verdict is read. The jury did not believe her allegations of abuse. She has to pay Depp more than $10 million in damages for defamation. Cold consolation: Depp owes her $2 million after the jury’s decision for statements by his ex-lawyer that would have damaged Heard’s reputation.
Depp emerges as a big winner from the defamation trial, but he’s also a loser in a staged mud fight, full of hostilities, live-streamed from court cameras around the world. Neither of the two will completely shake off the described scenes of a marriage. A severed fingertip, messages written in blood, faeces on the bedspread – these are some of the many details now immortalized in court transcripts.
High claims for damages
The verdict of the jury, five men and two women, came after three days of deliberations. At the core of Depp’s civil lawsuit was a 2018 op-ed by the Washington Post in which Heard described himself as a victim of domestic violence. She didn’t name Depp, but the Pirates of the Caribbean star felt she was a victim of false testimony and is suing for $50 million in defamation damages. Heard countersued with a $100 million claim. She claimed that Depp’s ex-lawyer Adam Waldman had damaged her reputation with a smear campaign.
The verdict revolved around complicated legal issues such as freedom of speech, intent or damage to reputation – but the credibility of the Hollywood stars and the mutual allegations of abuse were also put to the test. For weeks, lawyers for both sides had brought allegations of sexual abuse, physical violence, lies and drug excesses, backed by dozens of testimonies, shocking cell phone videos, audio recordings of crude abuse and photos of bruises.
Heard had described numerous incidents of alleged abuse on the witness stand. The actor said under oath that he “never” used physical violence in his relationship with Heard. Depp’s lawyers portrayed Heard as a notorious liar whose testimony could not be trusted.
Heard’s lawyer Benjamin Rottenborn, in turn, drew a picture of Depp as an angry, aggressive man who had become a “monster” mainly under the influence of alcohol and drugs. A verdict against Heard would send devastating news to abuse victims around the world, Rottenborn warned.
In the bitter exchange of blows between the ex-husbands, Depp enjoyed a huge fan advantage. The star was greeted by cheering supporters in front of the courthouse every day. Loud cheers were also heard on Wednesday – for Depp. Using hashtags such as #JusticeforJohnny, fans online had demanded “Justice for Johnny!” and loudly took sides with the actor. Heard had significantly fewer supporters, but all the more hostility on social media.
Her emotional appearance on the witness stand at the end of the trial was one of many shocking moments in the courtroom in Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside the US capital Washington. “I am harassed, humiliated and threatened every single day just by walking into this courtroom,” Heard told the jury. “I regularly get hundreds of death threats, almost every day. Thousands since this process began.” Even before her defeat, her case revealed what potential abuse victims who speak up experience and how they can be pilloried on social media.
For Depp, this is now the first win in the long-running War of the Roses, following a defeat in London two years ago. There he had sued the British tabloid “Sun”, which had described him in an article as a woman beater (“wife beater”). At that time, too, Depp and Heard had been in court for weeks with violent allegations, behind closed doors. In the end, in 2020, a judge found most of the allegations in the article to be true.
An important difference: now it was a duel before the eyes of the world public, broadcast by cameras. Depp was able to stage himself in the limelight, also with the prominent support of his ex-girlfriend Kate Moss. The British supermodel testified for him via video link.
Depp dated Moss for several years in the 1990s, and their split was followed by a long-term relationship with French actress Vanessa Paradis, with whom he has two adult children. Depp and Heard married in 2015, but after just 15 months of marriage, the actress filed for divorce following allegations of domestic violence.
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