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The Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard Libel Case Is in the Jury’s Hands

After 23 days of testimony that painted conflicting pictures of a tumultuous Hollywood marriage, lawyers for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard …

The Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard Libel Case Is in the Jury’s Hands
27.05.2022 22:08
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After 23 days of testimony that painted conflicting pictures of a tumultuous Hollywood marriage, lawyers for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard delivered their closing arguments on Friday, seeking to persuade the jury that their client had been the person who was abused and defamed.

Mr. Depp’s lawyers asserted that their movie star client had been falsely disparaged in a Washington Post op-ed in which Ms. Heard referred to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”

The accusations of spousal abuse that she was referencing, the lawyers argued, had ruined Mr. Depp’s life.

“We ask you to give Mr. Depp his life back by telling the world that Mr. Depp is not the abuser Ms. Heard said he is,” a lawyer for Mr. Depp, Camille Vasquez, said, “and hold Ms. Heard accountable for her lies.”

Ms. Heard’s lawyers countered that not only were the accusations and the op-ed entirely true, but during legal proceedings in 2020, the actress was unfairly maligned when a lawyer, who represented Mr. Depp at the time, called her abuse accusations a hoax.

“In Mr. Depp’s world, you don’t leave Mr. Depp, and if you do, he will start a campaign of global humiliation against you,” argued a lawyer for Ms. Heard, Ben Rottenborn.

Now, the case is in the hands of seven jurors.

The trial in Fairfax County Circuit Court has drawn widespread attention because the proceedings have been both televised and livestreamed through a pair of cameras in the courtroom, a rarity in Virginia. On one YouTube channel streaming the proceedings, called Law & Crime Network, more than one million users were reported to be watching.

There has been stiff competition to fill the public seats in the courtroom, with observers — most of them fans of Mr. Depp — lining up in the middle of the night to secure a spot. On Friday morning, about 150 people waited in line to get into the courtroom, with hundreds more lining a nearby road, some of them dressed as Mr. Depp’s movie characters.

Peyton Elmendorf, a 27-year-old Depp fan, said that when she first heard about Ms. Heard’s accusations, she had misgivings about defending the actor given the #MeToo movement. But now, after hearing other of the actor’s romantic partners speak positively about him, she said she felt confident voicing her support.

“I knew he didn’t do it,” she said.

Outnumbered outside the courthouse, but unpersuaded, Dan Kim, 26, quietly held a sign nearby that said “I stand with Amber.” He called it “crystal clear” that Mr. Depp had abused Ms. Heard.

Supporters of Mr. Depp outside the courthouse on Friday.Credit…Craig Hudson/FR 171641 AP, via Associated Press

Ultimately, the jury must consider the veracity and reputational impact of a narrow set of statements. But the six-week trial has encompassed testimony about a vast array of alleged incidents from Mr. Depp and Ms. Heard’s marriage.

Ms. Heard has accused Mr. Depp of repeated physical abuse that she said often coincided with drug and alcohol use and began with his accusing her of infidelity. She has also alleged several instances of sexual assault — including an accusation that he assaulted her with a bottle in Australia in 2015.

Amber Heard, talking to one of her lawyers during the proceedings on Friday.Credit…Pool photo by [PLEASE FILL IN]

Mr. Depp has denied ever hitting or sexually assaulting Ms. Heard and has portrayed her as the aggressor in the relationship, recalling violence from her throughout their relationship, as well as angry tirades and demeaning name-calling. Ms. Heard has denied hitting Mr. Depp except in defense of herself or her sister.

Testimony about the incidents often involved sensational details: disputed affairs with celebrities, graffiti written in blood and a missing chunk of Mr. Depp’s finger that forced the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie to pause production.

In laying out the highlights of their evidence, Mr. Depp’s lawyers reminded the jury of witnesses who said they did not see injuries on Ms. Heard around the times she reported having them, showed a photo of him with a “shiner” that he said she gave him and replayed audio of arguments between the estranged couple in which Ms. Heard admits to having hit Mr. Depp. In one audio clip, Ms. Heard can be heard saying, “I did start a physical fight,” challenging her claim that she only hit Mr. Depp as a defense. (Ms. Heard testified that in those instances, she hit him in response to his own aggression.)

His team also pointed to instances where there were no medical records or photographs to corroborate her allegations of abuse.

“The ‘mountain of evidence’ that Mr. Depp abused Ms. Heard is simply not there,” Ms. Vasquez argued. “What we have is a mountain of unproven allegations that are wild, over the top and implausible.”

Ms. Heard’s lawyers described witnesses who said she had told them about the abuse. Mr. Rottenborn played a video of Mr. Depp angrily slamming kitchen cabinets and showed jurors a text in which the actor told Ms. Heard’s father he had gone “too far in our fight.” He then showed the jury a photo of Ms. Heard with a red mark on her face after, she said, Mr. Depp hurled a phone at her. Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, another of her lawyers, reminded the jury about a forensic psychologist who testified to reviewing a therapist’s notes — which were not entered into evidence — that reflect contemporaneous reports from Ms. Heard where she complained of sexual abuse.

“A ruling against Amber here sends a message that no matter what you do, as an abuse victim, you always have to do more,” Mr. Rottenborn said. “No matter what you document, you always have to document more. No matter whom you tell, you always have to tell more people.”

The publication that is at the heart of Mr. Depp’s complaint is Ms. Heard’s op-ed, which was spearheaded and prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union. Ms. Heard did not name Mr. Depp in the article, but he has argued that it clearly alluded to their relationship, damaged his reputation and “devastated” his acting career.

Johnny Depp’s Libel Case Against Amber Heard


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In the courtroom. A defamation trial involving the formerly married actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard is currently underway in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia. Here is what to know about the case:

The case. Mr. Depp brought a defamation case against Ms. Heard in an effort to clear his name from domestic abuse allegations that she has made against him and that he denies. The jury is also considering a countersuit from Ms. Heard, who claims that Mr. Depp defamed her when his former lawyer said her domestic abuse claims were a “hoax.”

Ms. Heard’s op-ed. Mr. Depp’s suit was filed in response to an op-ed Ms. Heard wrote for The Washington Post in 2018 in which she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Though she did not mention her former husband’s name, he and his lawyers have argued that she was clearly referring to their relationship.

The end of their marriage. Ms. Heard filed for divorce in 2017, just over a year after the pair had married. She also obtained a temporary restraining order against the actor after accusing him of hitting her. She later withdrew that claim, and in January 2017, the couple agreed to a $7 million divorce settlement.

An earlier defamation case. The trial follows another case Mr. Depp brought in London in 2020 against The Sun newspaper, which called him a “wife beater” in a headline. In that trial, a judge found that there was evidence that he had assaulted Ms. Heard repeatedly.

The domestic abuse claims. In the 2020 trial, Ms. Heard accused her former husband of assaulting her first in 2013, after they began dating, and detailed other instances in which he slapped her, head-butted her and threw her to the ground. Mr. Depp has since accused her of punching him, kicking him and throwing objects at him.

The jury is also charged with determining whether Mr. Depp defamed Ms. Heard in 2020 when a lawyer representing him made statements seeking to discredit her abuse accusations, including one that accused Ms. Heard and her friends of setting Mr. Depp up when one of them called the police to the couple’s home. (Before the call, Ms. Heard testified, Mr. Depp had thrown a phone at her at close range, hitting her in the face, which Mr. Depp denies.)

Ms. Heard’s lawsuit asserted that Mr. Depp, through those statements, “launched a nationwide campaign” to discredit her. Mr. Depp testified that he had not seen the statements at issue until the lawsuit was filed.

In a previous trial in London, a judge found that Mr. Depp had assaulted Ms. Heard repeatedly throughout their relationship. The 2020 trial in Britain revolved around a lawsuit Mr. Depp filed against News Group Newspapers, the publishers of The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper, and Dan Wootton, that newspaper’s executive editor, over a 2018 headline that called Mr. Depp a “wife beater.”

The jury verdict in this case must be unanimous, but the panel does not have to find the evidence convincing “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as in a criminal case. Each party has the burden of proving by the greater weight of the evidence that they had been defamed, and that there was clear and convincing evidence that the other side had acted with actual malice while defaming them.

The jurors are also tasked with determining the amount of money either side deserves if he or she wins. Mr. Depp has sought $50 million and Ms. Heard has asked for $100 million.

Mr. Depp’s team sought to portray him as honest, as a person who was forthcoming in his testimony about his drug use and battle with an opioid addiction.

“Mr. Depp is no saint,” said one of his lawyers, Benjamin Chew. “But he is not a violent abuser.”

Ms. Vasquez, a lawyer for Mr. Depp, urged jurors not to pick and choose which of Ms. Heard’s many accusations to believe, telling them, “You either believe all of it or none of it.”

But Mr. Rottenborn, a lawyer for Ms. Heard, countered that the jury did not even have to scrutinize the accusations to find that the statements in her op-ed — including that she became a “public figure representing domestic abuse” — were true and protected by the First Amendment.

He also argued that the jury only needed to find that Ms. Heard had been abused once, including emotionally or psychologically, to establish that she was telling the truth.

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

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