Depp vs Heard: Jury sides mostly with ‘Pirates’ star
FAIRFAX, Virginia—A US jury on Wednesday found both Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard liable for defamation—but sided more strongly with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star following an intense trial with bitterly contested allegations of domestic abuse.
The verdict capped a bitterly fought six-week trial riding on lurid claims and counterclaims between the Hollywood celebrities.
The seven-member jury in Virginia awarded the 58-year-old actor $15 million in damages after finding that a 2018 opinion piece by Heard which appeared in the Washington Post was defamatory to Depp.
Heard, 36, called herself in that article “a public figure representing domestic abuse.”
Depp’s lawyers filed the case in 2019 in Fairfax County because the Washington Post is printed there. The newspaper was not a defendant.
Depp sued Heard for $50 million, to which she responded with a $100-million countersuit after a lawyer of his, Adam Waldman, told the Daily Mail that her abuse claims were a “hoax.”
The judge reduced the $15 million in damages to Depp to $10.35 million, to comply with state limits on punitive damages.
But Depp was also ordered to pay Heard $2 million, as the court affirmed one of three counterclaims of hers.
Heard, her eyes downcast throughout as she was seated between two of her lawyers, listened impassively as the verdict was read out.
Depp, who was following the proceedings from the United Kingdom, posted on Instagram that the jury “gave me my life back.”
He also issued a statement saying “the best is yet to come and a new chapter has finally begun,” ending with the Latin phrase “Veritas numquam perit. Truth never perishes.”
Depp, however, had faced a different outcome in Britain about two years ago, when he sued The Sun tabloid for calling him a “wife beater.”
Last year a London High Court judge ruled that he had repeatedly assaulted Heard.
Outside the court in Fairfax, a few dozen onlookers and Depp supporters awaited the verdict, with one man sporting a “Jack Sparrow” pirate hat and a woman with a placard reading: “No matter what happens today, Johnny, you are a winner!!! And the whole word knows the TRUTH!!!”
The physical presence of these fans was accompanied by a #JusticeForJohnnyDepp campaign on social media.
In her statement following the verdict, Heard said “the disappointment I feel today is beyond words. I’m heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband.”
“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback…. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously,” she also said.
Played for the jury
Depp and Heard met in 2011 while filming “The Rum Diary.” They were married in February 2015 and divorced about two years later.
The two stars each spent days on the witness stand during the televised trial, with video and audio recordings of heated, profanity-laced arguments between the couple played for the jury.
Depp denied hitting any woman, including Heard, and said she was the one who turned violent in their relationship.
The three-time Oscar nominee told jurors the allegations from Heard, best known for her role in “Aquaman,” had cost him “everything.”
A new “Pirates” movie was put on hold and Depp was replaced in the “Fantastic Beasts” film franchise, a “Harry Potter” spinoff.
The jury agreed with all of Depp’s defamation claims, citing a passage in the article and headline that read: “I spoke up against sexual violence—and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”
But jurors also affirmed a counterclaim by Heard in which she cited Waldman’s remarks that she staged property damage to show to police after an alleged fight.
“Amber and her friends spilled a little wine and roughed the place up, got their stories straight under the direction of a lawyer and publicist,” Depp’s lawyer said in part.
Heard’s attorneys argued that she had told the truth and that her comments were covered as free speech under the US Constitution’s First Amendment.
Jurors were also shown graphic photos of Depp’s bloody finger, which he said was severed when Heard threw a vodka bottle at him in 2015.
Heard denied injuring Depp’s finger and said he sexually assaulted her that night with a liquor bottle. She said she struck him only to defend herself or her sister.
Testimony was livestreamed on social media, drawing large audiences to hear lurid details about the couple’s relationship.
Dozens of witnesses testified during the trial, including bodyguards, Hollywood executives, agents, entertainment industry experts, doctors, friends and relatives.
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