US jury sides with Johnny Depp in libel case; Heard ‘heartbroken’

Jury awards Depp $10m in case that centred on a domestic abuse column written by his ex-wife.

Johnny Depp, with his lawyer to his left and a court security guard to his right, waves to people in court during his defamation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard
A jury has ruled in favour of actor Johnny Depp in a defamation trial he brought against former wife Amber Heard over allegations of domestic abuse [File: Steve Helber/Pool via Reuters]

A jury in the United States has awarded Johnny Depp more than $10m in the lawsuit he brought against ex-wife Amber Heard for defamation over a column she wrote for the Washington Post newspaper.

The jury on Wednesday also partially ruled in favour of Heard, who said she was defamed by Depp’s lawyer when he called her allegations of domestic abuse a hoax, and awarded her $2m in damages.

The verdicts brought an end to a televised trial that Depp hoped would help restore his reputation. Throughout the trial, fans — overwhelmingly on Depp’s side — lined up overnight for coveted courtroom seats. Spectators who could not get in gathered on the street to cheer Depp and jeer Heard whenever they appeared outside.

Heard said she was heartbroken by the verdict.

“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It’s a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously,’’ she said in a statement posted on her Twitter account.

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

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 detailed 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 bottle.

Depp said he never hit Heard and that she was the abuser, although Heard’s lawyers highlighted years-old text messages Depp sent apologising to Heard for his behaviour, as well as profane texts he sent to a friend in which Depp said he wanted to kill Heard and defile her dead body.

Amber Heard hugs her lawyer after the jury announced its decision in Virginia
Amber Heard hugs her lawyer Elaine Bredehoft after the jury said that they believe she defamed ex-husband Johnny Depp. They also partially ruled in her favour, but Heard said she was “heartbroken” at the outcome [Evelyn Hockstein/Pool via Reuters]

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 favour 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 her 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 the UK trial never had.

“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.

A solemn Amber Heard, in black and wearing multiple necklaces, leaves court after the decision
A solemn Amber Heard leaves court after the jury announced its decision in the Depp v Heard civil defamation trial in Fairfax, Virginia. Depp was in the UK and did not attend court [Tom Brenner/Reuters]

The case captivated millions through its gavel-to-gavel television coverage and impassioned followers on social media who dissected everything from the actors’ mannerisms to the possible symbolism of what they were wearing.

Depp was in the UK, and not in court, when the jury delivered its decision.

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

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 live. 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 state.

Source: AP