Entertainment

Jury rules mostly in Johnny Depp’s favor in Amber Heard defamation trial

A jury has ruled in favor of Johnny Depp in his libel lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard, vindicating his stance that Heard fabricated claims that she was abused by Depp before and during their brief marriage.

But it has also been ruled partly in Heard’s favor on some of her claims against her ex-husband.

The jury awarded $US15 million ($20.88 million) be paid to Depp, and $US2 million ($2.78 million) be paid to heard as a result of multiple rulings against each of them.

Actor Johnny Depp waves to supporters as he departs the Fairfax County Courthouse on May 27, 2022. (AP)

The verdicts, delivered about 5.20am on Thursday AEST, bring an end to a televised trial that Depp had hoped would help restore his reputation, though it turned into a spectacle of a vicious marriage.

Heard issued a statement after the verdict, saying she was “heartbroken”, and blamed the “disproportionate power, influence and sway of (her) ex-husband” for the result.

“It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously,” she wrote.

“I believe Johnny’s attorneys succeeded in getting the jury to overlook the key issue of Freedom of Speech and ignore evidence that was so conclusive that we won in the UK.

“I’m sad I lost this case. But I am sadder still that I seem to have lost a right I thought I had as an American – to speak freely and openly.”

Amber Heard
Amber Heard leaves the courthouse after the verdict is handed down. In a statement she said she was “heartbroken” by the decision. (Getty)

Depp thanked the jury and his supporters in his own statement.

“Six years ago, my life, the life of my children, the lives of those closest to me, and also, the lives of the people who for many, many years have supported and believed in me were forever changed,” he said.

“All in the blink of an eye. False, very serious and criminal allegations were levied at me via the media, which triggered an endless barrage of hateful content, although no charges were ever brought against me.

“It had already traveled around the world twice within a nanosecond and it had a seismic impact on my life and my career. And six years later, the jury gave me my life back. I am truly humbled.”

He said his goal in the trial had been to “reveal the truth” and he now felt “at peace”.

Fans—overwhelmingly on Depp’s side—lined up overnight to grab a seat in the courtroom.

Spectators who couldn’t get in lined up on the street to cheer Depp and jeer Heard whenever either appeared outside.

Depp sued Heard for libel in Fairfax County Circuit Court over a December 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post describing herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” His lawyers said he was defamed by the article even though it never mentioned his name.

Actress Amber Heard departs the Fairfax County Courthouse on May 27, 2022. (AP)

While the case was ostensibly about libel, most of the testimony focused on whether Heard had been physically and sexually abused, as she claimed.

Heard enumerated more than a dozen alleged assaults, including a fight in Australia — where Depp was shooting a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel — in which Depp lost the tip of his middle finger and Heard said she was sexually assaulted with a liquor bottle.

Depp said he never hit Heard and was never out of control when drinking, though Heard’s attorneys highlighted text messages Depp sent to friends recounting the copious amount of alcohol and drugs he had taken at that time.

Her attorneys also showed that Depp sent texts apologizing to Heard for his behavior and wrote profane messages to a friend in which Depp said he wanted to kill Heard and defile her dead body.

Johnny Depp and Jeff Beck
Johnny Depp joined Jeff Beck on stage to cover a few songs in the United Kingdom even as his trial drew to a close. (Youtube)

In some ways, the trial was a replay of a lawsuit Depp filed in the United Kingdom against a British tabloid after he was described as a “wife beater.” The judge in that case ruled in the newspaper’s favor after finding that Heard was telling the truth in her descriptions of abuse.

In the Virginia case, Depp had to prove not only that he never assaulted Heard, but that Heard’s article — which focused primarily on public policy related to domestic violence — defamed him. He also had to prove that Heard wrote the article with actual malice.

And to claim damages he had to prove that his article caused the damage to his reputation as opposed to any number of articles before and after Heard’s piece that detailed the allegations against him.

Depp, in his final testimony to the jury, said the trial gave him a chance to clear his name in a way that he the UK trial never allowed.

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard attend The 58th GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 15, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.
Depp and Heard together in 2016. (Getty)

“No matter what happens, I did get here and I did tell the truth and I have spoken up for what I’ve been carrying on my back, reluctantly, for six years.” Depp said.

Heard, on the other hand, said the trial has been an ordeal inflicted by an orchestrated smear campaign led by Depp.

“Johnny promised me — promised me — that he’d ruin my life, that he’d ruin my career. He’d take my life from me,” Heard said in her final testimony.

The case captivated millions through its gavel-to-gave television coverage and impassioned followers on social media who dissected everything from the actors’ mannerisms to the possible symbolism of what they were wearing. Both performers emerge from the trial with reputations in tatters with unclear prospects for their careers.

Eric Rose, a crisis management and communications expert in Los Angeles, called the trial a “classic murder-suicide.”

“From a reputation management perspective, there can be no winners,” he said.

“They’ve bloodied each other up. It becomes more difficult now for studios to hire either actor because you’re potentially alienating a large segment of your audience who may not like the fact that you have retained either Johnny or Amber for a specific project because feelings are so strong now.”

Depp, a three-time best actor Oscar nominee, had until recent years been a bankable star. His turn as Captain Jack Sparrow in the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film helped turn it into a global franchise, but he’s lost that role. (Heard and Depp’s teams each blame the other.) He was also replaced as the title character in the third “Fantastic Beasts” spin-off film, “The Crimes of Grindelwald.”

Despite testimony at the trial that he could be violent, abusive and out of control, Depp received a standing ovation Tuesday night in London after performing for about 40 minutes with Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall. He has previously toured with Joe Perry and Alice Cooper as the group Hollywood Vampires.

Heard’s acting career has been more modest, and her only two upcoming roles are in a small film and the upcoming “Aquaman” sequel due out next year.

Depp’s lawyers fought to keep the case in Virginia, in part because state law provided some legal advantages compared with California, where the two reside. A judge ruled that Virginia was an acceptable forum for the case because The Washington Post’s printing presses and online servers are in the county.

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