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Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial explained: 12 words that could sink Depp’s case

For weeks, millions have listened to and seen lurid evidence in the Depp-Heard trial. But who wins will come down to something much simpler.

The defamation trial involving Johnny Depp and Amber Heard has brought up an eye-watering amount of – sometimes lurid – detail.

Aside from the claims of physical abuse, jurors and viewers alike have heard allegations about leaking lawyers, broken bottles, blood smeared mirrors, broken phones and broken promises on donations. We’ve even heard claims about faeces left in a bed.

But as the jury retires to consider their verdict, the entire case – at its core – rests essentially on a mere 12 words: “Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse …”

That sentence – in fact just that half sentence – was published in a major newspaper under Amber Heard’s name.

Heard is being sued by Depp for $US50million ($A67m) for that washington post op-ed.

She didn’t name Depp but his team says that doesn’t matter as the inference is clear – she is claiming Depp is an abuser. He claims Heard’s allegations are false and cost him lucrative movie roles.

After six weeks of testimony at the Fairfax County courthouse in Virginia, near to Washington DC, the jury has now retired to consider their verdict.

Monday is the Memorial Day public holiday in the US so the seven men and women won’t meet again until Tuesday, US time.

Potentially they could reach a verdict that day, early on Wednesday in Australia. But the sheer amount of evidence that’s been presented means it’s likely it could take several days yet.

The newspaper article at the heart of the case

At the core of the case is an article published under Heard’s name by the washington post on December 18, 2018.

It was headlined: “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

The piece was written in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union for which Heard was an ambassador.

In the article she says she was “exposed to abuse at a very young age;” that she knew early on that “men have the power;” and she had been harassed and sexually assaulted by the time she went to college.

None of that would have landed Heard in court.

But then came that sentence.

“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.”

Depp’s legal team have said the lack of his name in the piece matters not. That’s because, they have said, anyone who had followed the pair’s tumultuous relationship would have seen the reference to two years ago and linked that to May 2016 when Heard appeared at a California courthouse and was granted a restraining order against Depp.

During that court appearance, she looked to have a bruise on her cheek. She also appeared on the cover of a major US magazine sporting what appeared to be injuries.

Depp has denied ever assaulting his one-time wife and so his legal team has said the article was a clear case of Heard defaming him.

UK case that preceded this trial

This isn’t the first case where domestic violence allegations have been leveled at Depp. In 2020, Depp sued British newspaper The Sun which had called him a “wife beater”. He lost the case.

The judge ruled Depp’s feelings towards his wife during their turbulent three-year relationship were summed up in a text where the actor revealed he had “no mercy” for her.

He also concluded Depp beat Ms Heard 12 out of 14 alleged times – starting in 2013 when he slapped the actor when she made a comment about his tattoo.

But the legal systems in England and the legal system in Virginia are different. And, in the UK he was suing a publication, not a person.

In Britain, the un was on The Sun to prove Depp had assaulted Heard. In the US the onus is on Depp to disprove Heard’s claims of domestic violence.

And for weeks Depp’s legal team have tried to do just that. They have questioned the veracity of the images of bruises, claimed she tipped off gossip website TMZ as part of a campaign to smear Depp and that she – not he – was the real abuser in their broken relationship.

Heard’s team, in contrast, has tried to establish a pattern of abuse from Depp.

Moss’ testimony didn’t help Heard

But proving that pattern came a bit unstuck when Depp’s former girlfriend supermodel Kate Moss dramatically took to the stand last week.

The star’s testimony took all of four minutes during which she denied a rumour, raised in court by Heard, that Depp had thrown her down a staircase while the former couple were on holiday in Jamaica.

Rather, Moss said, she slipped and Depp actually cared for her and got her medical attention.

“He never pushed me, kicked me or threw me down any stairs,” Moss said.

‘If Amber was abused by Depp once, she wins’

But in his closing arguments on Friday, Heard’s lawyer Benjamin Rottenborn reminded the jury that the burden of proof was on Depp and that he needed to show that every single instance of abuse Heard has accused him of was false.

He pointed out that it also has to be proven that the allegations were made by Heard with malice in order for Depp to win the civil case.

“If Amber was abused by Mr Depp even one time, then she wins,” Mr Rottenborn said.

“We’re not just talking about physical abuse, we’re talking about emotional abuse, physical, financial abuse, sexual abuse.

“It’s not about whose the better spouse,” he added.

“It’s not about whether you think Ms Heard may have been abusive to Mr Depp.

“If you think they were both abusive to each other … then Amber wins.”

Depp team said Heard put on a ‘performance’

Camille Vasquez, for Depp, said Heard’s claims were “false” and “defamatory,” and that she conducted a “performance” in court to play “the role of her lifetime as a heroic survivor of brutal abuse”.

“She told you what she thinks you need to hear to convict this man as a domestic abuser and a rapist,” Ms Vasquez said.

Depp’s team said the evidence presented by Heard’s team of abuse was inconsequential or maybe manipulated. And the star’s lawyers asked why no medical records existed if there was incident after incident of abuse.

Ms Vasquez also said that “no woman” before Heard had ever alleged Depp was violent.

One of Depp’s other lawyers went for the jugular.

“You have now come to know the real Amber Heard: it’s scary,” Benjamin Chew told the jury.

Heard has countersued, asking for $US100 million ($A134m) and claiming she suffered “rampant physical violence and abuse” at Depp’s hands but was defamed when claims were made that she had fabricated the allegations.

Heard isn’t claiming that Depp directly defamed her in public himself. But, she argued, his former lawyer was essentially acting on his instructions when he told a newspaper that his claims of abuse were a “hoax”.

The allegations, the bloody photographs, the images of smashed up apartments, and expletive ridden texts have all grabbed the headlines in this case.

But whether Depp wins will likely come down to something far simpler: just 12 short words in one sentence.

– With Megan Palin.

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