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It’s been compared to “a juicy television event Netflix could have scripted”, with Johnny Depp’s $50million defamation trial against Amber Heard broadcasting countless unsavoury details about their relationship on CourtTV.com.
During the six-week trial which began on April 11, text messages threatening to drown and brutalise Heard’s body, photos of mirrors with blood-inked messages and faecal revenge have been dissected through witness testimonies. While Depp and Heard’s personal testimonies have brought forward harrowing allegations of abuse and sexual assault.
Because of the round the clock coverage of the messy defamation case, the trial has faced an onslaught of social media attention. In the last week alone, social media forensic expert Ron Schnell testified that out of four random tests of 1,000 tweets about Heard, not one of them was positive about the actress. And in a weird turn of events, Depp’s attorney Camille Vasquez turned into an overnight TikTok sensation thanks to her tough cross-examination of Heard on Tuesday, and now has a legion of die-hard fans.
The lawsuit was originally launched by the Pirates of the Caribbean actor against Heard in 2019. In it, he argues that a December 2018 column she wrote in The Washington Post falsely implies she was a victim of abuse during their relationship. Because of this, Depp claims to have been boycotted in Hollywood, stating that he has lost earnings of about $40 million.
The Aquaman actress never named him in The Washington Post op-ed, instead she referred to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse”. Heard, who immediately called for the case to be dismissed after Depp’s final witness finished his testimony (it was denied), and has also filed a counterclaim for defamation against Depp worth $100 million, accusing him of a smear campaign.
Many have questioned why Depp has chosen to push forward with the trial, currently taking place in Fairfax County Court, Virginia, the home of The Washington Post’s online publisher. Depp’s 2020 libel case against the publisher of The Sun brought to light relationship details that would otherwise have been kept behind closed doors, including tales of trashed properties, drug binges and even a severed finger.
What’s more, after a 16-day trial at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the judge concluded in November 2020 that the newspaper’s article referring to Depp as a “wife-beater” written by The Sun’s then executive editor, Dan Wootton, was “substantially true”. In fact, Judge Mr Justice Nicol referred to 14 separate incidents that The Sun’s lawyers cited to justify calling Depp a “wife-beater”.
The former couple met on the set of the 2011 film The Rum Diary where they played tangled lovers. In a court filing, Heard wrote that she and Depp had been dating “around the end of 2011 or the start of 2012”, shortly after Depp and long-time partner Vanessa Paradis separated after 14-years of dating. In February 2015 the two wed in a private ceremony in their Los Angeles home. However, the pair broke up in May 2016, with Heard filing for a divorce citing irreconcilable differences.
That same month, she was granted a restraining order against Depp over allegations of domestic violence, where she accused Depp of throwing a cellphone at her during a fight, and that he screamed at her, hit her, violently grabbed her face and pulled her hair. She also provided photographic evidence of her bruised face. Depp denied the claims, and the former couple settled theirdivorce out of court in August 2016. The divorce was finalised in 2017, with Heard stating that she would donate the $7 million divorce settlement to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Ahead of the trial, Heard told her 4.1 million Instagram followers on Saturday: “I’m going to go offline for the next several weeks. As you may know, I’ll be in Virginia where I face my ex-husband Johnny Depp in court.”
She continued: “Johnny is suing me for an op-ed I wrote in The Washington Post, in which I recounted my experience of violence and domestic abuse. I never named him, rather I wrote about the price women pay for speaking against men in power. I continue to pay that price, but hopefully when this case concludes, I can move on and so can Johnny.
“I have always maintained a love for Johnny and it brings me great pain to have to live out the details of our past life together in front of the world.”
In their opening argument, Depp’s lawyers branded Heard a liar who is “obsessed with her public image”, while Heard’s lawyers have stated that the actress had endured emotional, verbal and physical abuse and that Depp wants to “haunt her, to wreck her career”.
Depp took the stand for the first time on April 12 to give his witness testimony. While Depp admitted that he and Heard argued during their relationship, he said that he “never” reached the point of hitting her, “nor have I ever struck a woman in my life”. He went on to explain that his ex-wife’s allegations came as a “complete shock”, and that they “permeated” the entertainment industry so much so that they had become “a global, let’s say ‘fact’, if you will”.
“I felt it was my responsibility to clear my name and my children of this horrid thing that they were having to read about their father,” continued Depp. “My goal is the truth, because it killed me that people I’d met over the years... would think that I was a fraud and had lied to them”. He also revealed that his daughter Lily Rose Depp didn’t attend their wedding. “She and Heard were not on great terms for several reasons,” he said.
He also likened his relationship with Heard to his relationship with his abusive mother, Betty Sue Palmer, who he said “had the ability to be as cruel as anyone can be,” and that his mother’s death in 2016 made him realise he wanted a divorce. “It opened my eyes to the fact that – yes, try, in relationships, whether friendships, whether courtships, whether marriage. Try your best. If it’s not going to work, it’s not going to work.”
Christi Dembrowski, was the first out of the estimated 120 witnesses to give testimony, and took to the stand to corroborate Depp’s volatile childhood. “Mom would, she would scream, she would yell. She would hit [Dad], call him names.”
According to Dembrowski, who worked as Depp’s assistant and manager during his career, her brother’s demeanour changed when he became involved with Ms Heard. “He seemed sadder,” she said. “If I’m honest, I debated going [to the wedding],” she said. “I wanted to make sure that I showed up anyway, because I wanted to make sure, honestly, that my little brother knew I was going to be there no matter what.”
Dembrowski also stated that Heard would often insult Depp, and that Heard referred to him as “an old fat man” when she was told of Depp’s Dior campaign.
Depp started the week with a two-day testimony in which he said Heard “grossly embellished” his substance abuse and that it had been “an easy target” for the actress after their marriage broke down. “It has never been for the party effect, it has been trying to numb the things inside that have, that can plague someone who has experienced trauma,” he told the court in Virginia. Audio of Depp moaning “like a pained animal” after mixing opioids and alcohol was played in court, while a photo taken by Heard of the actor asleep clutching melted ice cream that was spilling onto his clothes and the floor was circulated.
In response, Depp said he had worked a 17-hour day and had taken some opioids to help in wind down, and that Heard gave him the ice cream “because she knew what was going to happen”.
A photo of Depp’s severed finger was also shown in court, which he claimed was the result of a row with Heard where she “hurled” a bottle of vodka at him. “I was looking directly at my bone... sticking out... blood was pouring out,” Depp said of the 2015 incident which occured while he was in Australia filming the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film, before adding it was "probably the closest I’ve ever been" to having a nervous breakdown.
He also refuted claims that the “human faecal matter” that was found on his bed sheets were from his Yorkshire terriers. “I lived with those dogs for many years. That [faecal matter] did not come from a dog.” Depp said that before the 2016 incident he had gone to Coachella Festival and on his return security guard Sean Bett warned him against going into the bedroom. "I laughed. It was so outside. It was so bizarre and so grotesque that I could only laugh.”
However, jurors were also presented with audio in which the actor appeared to warn Heard of violence if their arguments escalated. “The next move, if I don’t walk away … it’s going to be a bloodbath, like it was on the island,” says Depp on the recording played in court. Text exchanges between actor Paul Bettany from 2013 also revealed that he had written: “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I will f*** her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead...” To which he said that the “text about burning Ms Heard is directly from Monty Python and burning and drowning witches... It is a film we all watched when we were about 10, it’s irreverent and abstract humour”.
In his final stand on Monday 25 April, Depp testified that he had planned to make sure his character Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise would have a “proper goodbye”, rather than stopping abruptly after the fifth movie.
Experts told Insider that Depp performed well on the stand, coming across as"vulnerable" and "credible." But they said he has an uphill battle to victory due to the multiple audio and video clips of the couple fighting aired during the trial.
The stand then welcomed testimonies from Depp’s estate manager Tara Roberts, clinical and forensic psychologist Doctor Shannon Curry and LAPD Officer Melissa Saenz, to name a few.
Dr Curry, who assessed the mental state of Heard, said she believed the actress suffers from borderline personality disorder and that it is “a predictive factor in women who implement violence against their partner. One tactic is physically assaulting and then getting hurt themselves... then using the legal system... for example using a restraining order”. She also stated that it is common for people with such personality disorders to take on “a victim or princess role”, sometimes making up stories to “get respect and attention that way”.
A lot of time was also spent grilling Depp on how he severed his finger from the 2015 Australia incident. His house manager, Ben King,testified on Monday about finding it in a bloody paper towel near the house’s marble bar, which had a chunk taken out of it and was surrounded by broken glass, empty cans, and "bodily fluids." While one of Depp’s longtime chauffeurs and security guards, Starling Jenkins, also testified that he had "a conversation pertaining to the surprise she left in the boss’s bed" and that Heard called it a "horrible practical joke."
Moreover, multiple witnesses undermined Heard’s claims she was injured after a May 2016 fight with Depp. Notably, Officer Saenz said the fact she did not fill out a domestic violence report on the night of her May 2016 visit to the penthouse was “consistent with her training” because she believed that “no incident occurred”. She was then shown a photo of Heard the night Depp allegedly threw a cellphone at her face. Officer Saenz commented: “It does not look like an injury caused by a cellphone [mobile phone].” Adding that she thought it was “consistent with her crying, her face was flushed.”
Elon Musk, Heard’s ex-boyfriend who Depp claims she cheated on him with, came up several times in testimonies – including during questioning over Heard’s promise to donate her $7 million divorce settlement to the ACLU.
Terence Dougherty, chief operating officer and general counsel of the ACLU, testified that the organisation only ever received $1.3 million in donations made in Heard’s name, and that he believes $500,000 of that amount came from Musk.
Depp’s legal team rested their case against Heard on Tuesday 3 May, with their final statements claiming that because of Head’s allegations of abuse in her Washington Post Op-ed, the actor missed out on a potential $40 million in earnings.
That afternoon, the defence case then began with forensic psychologist Dr Dawn Hughes refuting much of the previous testimony regarding Heard’s mental health and touching on many of the incidents of alleged violence described by other witnesses. Hughes told jurors she spent a total of 29 hours evaluating Heard, and concluded that the actress suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by violence suffered at the hands of Depp, including multiple acts of sexual assault. Most notably, the actress claimed that Depp had penetrated her with a wine bottle during the infamous Australia trip.
Heard reported “going outside of her body and the only thing she was thinking is, ‘oh God, I hope it’s not the broken one’,” Dr Hughes told the court.
Her testimony contradicted that of a psychologist hired by Depp’s lawyers, who previously told the court that Heard had “grossly exaggerated” symptoms of PTSD and actually suffered from “histrionic and borderline personality disorders”.
Heard said in her trial that she thought Mr Depp was going to kill her “without realising it” at one point. “I don’t even remember feeling the pain, I just remember hearing the sound of Johnny’s voice,” she said from the witness stand.
“He got next to my face and he was screaming over and over and over again, each time it sounded louder and more desperate, ‘I f***ing hate you, I f***ing hate you, I f***ing hate you’ over and over. ‘F***ing hate you.”
While Heard sat stone-faced through Depp’s testimony, Depp has been animated during Heard’s. The courtroom cameras show him doodling, appearing to crack jokes in his lawyers’ ears, sniggering at some of Heard’s recollections, and eating from a pile of gummy bears on the table before him.
One part of the trial caught public attention as Johnny Depp’s lawyer were seen smiling and pumping their fists as Amber Heard mentioned “Kate Moss and stairs,” referring to a rumour that Depp threw Moss down a flight of stairs once. The supermodel and him famously dated from 1994 to 1997 and at a previous trial, Depp’s legal team claimed this story was a total fabrication. Now that the actress has mentioned it, they have an opportunity to use it against her credibility.
It is also thought that Moss might testify to Depp’s character on his behalf, with the two known to have had a good relationship since their 1997 split.
Heard wrapped up her side of the story before a week-long recess ahead of a cross-examination from Depp’s lawyers on May 1. As it stands, closing arguments will take place on May 27 with Heard’s team presenting their final defence, to which Depp’s team will have a chance to refute.
So far experts have said that Heard will win the case but that the trial may help Depp regain his footing in Hollywood. According to Christa Ramey, co-founder of the Los Angeles Civil-litigation firm Ramey Law PC: "Johnny Depp has won regardless of whatever the outcome of the trial is," she continued. "He’s gained his reputation back in front of the public, period full stop."
Court proceedings resumed on May 16.
Direct examination of Heard concluded mid-afternoon on Monday and cross-examination began. In her testimony so far, Heard has spoken extensively about her troubled relationship with Depp and detailed alleged physical fights. The court also heard a particularly harrowing account of an alleged sexual assault during the famed 2015 Australia trip.
Monday’s cross-examination included an accusation that Heard staged a photo of cocaine on a breakfast table; several challenges to her accounts of injuries at Depp’s hand; and a tense grilling over missing charitable donations pledged from the divorce settlement.
Depp’s lawyer Camille Vasquez questioned Heard about failing to donate any part of the multi-million dollar divorce settlement after Depp paid her the final instalment of $2.3m on 1 February 2018. As part of their divorce, Heard pledged to donate all the $7 million settlement to the ACLU and told Dutch talk show RTL Late Night in 2018 that, “$7million in total was donated - I split it between the ACLU and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. I wanted nothing.”
However, Heard only contributed $350,000 directly in December 2018 and she has not paid any money since. $100,000 was paid by Depp and another $350,000 came from a fund at Fidelity, an investment company. Another $500,000 payment came from an account at investment firm Vanguard, which Terence Dougherty, the ACLU Chief Operating Officer, said “believed it was a fund set up by Elon Musk.”
Heard said she is yet to donate the full amount “because Johnny sued me for $50million in March of 2019.” Before adding, “I fully intend to honour all of my pledges. I would love for him to stop suing me so I can.”
Vasquez’s tough cross-examination on Tuesday has led to the 37-lawyer becoming an overnight TikTok sensation, who now has a legion of die-hard fans.
After Heard’s cross-examination wrapped up, the court was shown video depositions featuring former friends of Depp and Heard – Tillett Wright and Raquel Pennington.
Wright, an author, photographer, and former journalist for the New York Times, shared details about his relationship with both actors, who he said he had close relationships with while the pair were married and dating.
He said he’d never witnessed Depp abuse Heard, but did say that the Pirates of the Caribbean star could be “cruel” and “surly” and “extremely paranoid” when drinking and using drugs, and he said he’d heard Depp say “awful” things about Heard in the past.
On Thursday Talent agent Jessica Kovacevi testified that Heard’s career would have been “comparable” to Cuban actress Ana De Armas, who was a recent bond girl and is set to star in the Marilyn Monroe biopic. Instead, the negative press the actress has received over her relationship with Depp has destroyed those chances.
Kovacevi added that Heard lost out on a role for an Amazon movie with Mexican actor Gael Garcial Bernal and a campaign she shot for Tod’s was scrapped because of Depp’s attorney Adam Waldman’s allegations in the libel case against The Sun in 2020. Notably, he accused Heard of faking the scene of the abuse during a 2015 Thanksgiving Dinner, saying in a 2020 media interview that it “was an ambush, a hoax”.
Social media forensic expert Ron Schnell, also appeared during Thursday’s hearing as a witness for Heard’s team. He told the court about some of the negative hashtags he found about the actress between April 2020 and January 2021, including #WeJustDontLikeYouAmber, #AmberTurd and #AmberHeardIsAnAbuser. Out of four random tests of 1,000 tweets about Heard, he also found that not one single tweet was positive about the actress.
The trial is expected to end on May 27.