Johnny Depp wins defamation suit against Amber Heard
Johnny Depp won a defamation suit Wednesday against his former wife Amber Heard after a jury found that she had defamed Depp in saying that he had abused her over the course of their relationship.
Depp, who was not in court Wednesday due to a previously scheduled work commitment, sued for $50 million in damages over a 2018 opinion-editorial essay by Heard in The Washington Post, in which she said she had become a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Although the essay never mentioned Depp by name, his attorneys said it indirectly referred to allegations she made against him during their 2016 divorce.
The jury unanimously found that Heard could not substantiate her allegations against Depp and that she knew her claims of abuse were false when she published her 2018 essay.
The jury determined that Heard acted with actual malice when writing her op-ed. The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages in his defamation suit.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Penney Azcarate reduced the punitive damages the jury awarded to Depp to $350,000, which is the state’s statutory cap or legal limit, making his total damages $10.4 million.
“From the very beginning, the goal of bringing this case was to reveal the truth, regardless of the outcome,” Depp said in a statement Wednesday. “Speaking the truth was something that I owed to my children and to all those who have remained steadfast in their support of me. I feel at peace knowing I have finally accomplished that.”
Depp said that “the jury gave me my life back. I am truly humbled.”
Heard had countersued for $100 million and said she was only ever violent with Depp in self-defense or defense of her younger sister. Heard’s countersuit centered around three statements made by Depp’s former attorney Adam Waldman in 2020 to the Daily Mail, in which he described Heard’s allegations of abuse as a “hoax.”
The jury found that Depp, through Waldman, defamed Heard on one count. The jury awarded Heard $2 million in compensatory damages but $0 in punitive damages.
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The panel, which began deliberations Friday, came to its decision after approximately 13 hours over the course of three days. The high-profile trial, which took place over about six weeks in Fairfax County, Virginia, was broadcast across the country and drew numerous headlines.
Defamation claims filed in the U.S. by public figures, such as an actor, are commonly thought of as difficult cases to win due to the higher standard a plaintiff must prove.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1964 that defamation suits brought by notable figures must not only prove the claims were false and caused them damage, but that the person who made the defamatory statement did so with “actual malice.”
In a statement Wednesday, 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,” she said. “It is a setback. 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.”
The jury’s decision marks a legal redemption for Depp, who lost a libel case in the United Kingdom two years ago over allegations that he hit Heard.
Depp sued the parent company that owns The Sun and the newspaper’s executive editor for calling him a “wife beater” in 2018. Justice Andrew Nicol ruled against Depp in 2020, saying the British tabloid had presented substantial evidence to show that Depp was violent against Heard on at least 12 of 14 occasions.
In her statement Wednesday, Heard said she believes Depp’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,” she said. “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.”
During the trial, Depp testified that he lost “nothing less than everything” after Heard’s essay was published and that the allegations have controlled his “every waking second.”
“What did it do to me? What effect did it have on me? I’ll put it to you this way: No matter the outcome of this trial, the second the allegations were made against me … once that happened, I lost then,” he said.
Heard initially alleged in 2016 when she filed for a protective order that Depp bruised her after he threw a phone at her. She wrote in a sworn declaration to the court that she was living “in fear that Johnny will return to [our house] unannounced to terrorize me, physically and emotionally.”
Depp denied the incident, saying he went to the couple’s penthouse the day after his mother died to speak to Heard about his desire to file for divorce. In that conversation, Depp and Heard argued, and he tossed her cellphone on the couch after he heard her laughing about him to a friend, according to his testimony.
“It was a tough couple of days, and I really didn’t feel like I deserved that kind of treatment,” Depp said.
During the trial, Depp’s legal team called to the witness stand two police officers who responded to the scene in 2016. The officers said they did not observe physical injury to Heard, noting her face appeared red with emotion, and that she was uncooperative.
Heard told the court she did not call 911 during the 2016 argument and chose not to cooperate with police because she feared they might arrest Depp, whom she was trying to protect.
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Depp’s legal team accused Heard of faking injuries and doctoring photos of herself with bruises in a yearslong attempt to gain a financial advantage in a divorce. Heard denied ever staging or doctoring photos in her abuse allegations.
Depp’s attorneys accused Heard of being the abuser in the relationship while cross-examining her and said that she lied about ever fearing him.
Heard has denied abusing Depp, saying she only ever struck him in defense of herself or her sister after Depp had initiated a violent assault.
Depp and Heard each took the stand, offering their perspectives on the course of their roughly five-year relationship and the volatile arguments they shared. Their testimonies were similar in some ways — both describing an instant infatuation that evolved into a roller coaster romance — but differed as to the source of the acrimonious end.
In his testimony, Depp told the court he initially believed Heard to be the ideal partner for him, recounting how the two bonded over a love of literature and obscure music. But about a year or so into the relationship, Depp said Heard became volatile and instigated arguments over small matters.
He accused her of having a “need for conflict.” Depp said Heard would sometimes “strike out,” whether it was a slap or a shove or throwing something at him.
“It’s hard to explain, but the argument would start here, but it would roll around and become this circular thing of its own,” Depp said. “You’d get back to the beginning. … Now it’s heightened even more and it’s still circular. There’s no way in or out.”
Heard took issue with Depp’s consumption of alcohol and drugs during their relationship, he said, though she never curbed her own substance use around him. He denied ever being out of control while under the influence or having an addiction to alcohol.
While under cross-examination, Heard said she only consumed illicit substances in Depp’s presence early twice in their relationship.
“I did a lot of changing to support his sobriety. I tried everything that I could possibly think of,” Heard said.
During his testimony, Depp said Heard would pick fights with him and escalate them until physical violence ensued.
Heard said that she would express concern over Depp’s drug and alcohol abuse, which would escalate into arguments. She also testified that the couple had spoken about how to approach disagreements in couple’s therapy.
Depp resided in Australia for a portion of 2015 in order to film the fifth installment of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. He testified that Heard flew out to stay with him in March 2015 after she wrapped filming on a movie in London and that the couple had a fight regarding a postnuptial agreement.
He told the court that Heard followed him around several rooms in the rented Australia home as he attempted to escape the argument, until he began drinking in the bar area of the residence. Heard eventually sought him out, continuing the argument, and threw two vodka bottles at him, he said.
Depp testified that broken glass from one of the two bottles severed the tip of his finger, resulting in surgery and a delay in filming.
Heard denied the allegation, testifying instead that Depp was in the midst of a multiday binge of drugs and alcohol. She testified that he had a fit of rage and assaulted her during that time, as well as trashing the home. Heard said she believed Depp may have severed his finger while smashing a phone that was mounted on the wall.
Depp admitted to causing damage at the home after the couple’s arguments, testifying that he had a “kind of nervous breakdown” after his finger was severed, but he denied Heard’s account of what happened.
Ben King, who worked for Depp as an estate manager and was brought out by Depp to Australia, testified that he never saw a phone smashed following the couple’s argument. He also said he did not observe anything unusual in Heard’s physical appearance, other than red eyes from crying.
Depp’s legal team submitted numerous audio recordings of the couple’s arguments into evidence, one file of which included Heard seemingly admitting to having “hit” Depp while simultaneously denying that she punched him.
Heard testified that the hit occurred when she was defending herself against Depp and that the audio was recorded in a verbal argument about the matter later.
“I accused him of being a baby for complaining about me hitting him when he was trying to get through the door. I was trying to barricade,” Heard said.
Depp’s attorneys called a number of witnesses, including Heard’s former assistant, Depp’s security team, Depp’s sister, a counselor who conducted couple’s therapy during their marriage, and a forensic psychologist hired by Depp’s legal team.
Heard’s former assistant described her as “belligerent” and “abusive” during their working relationship. The forensic psychologist hired by Depp’s legal team testified that she diagnosed Heard with both borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder, which was later disputed by Heard’s own forensic psychologist.
Depp’s security team testified that they never saw Depp assault Heard but attested that the couple’s relationship became volatile and that both parties spewed “verbal vitriol” at each other.
Heard’s defense called several witnesses to testify to seeing bruises on her during the time she was with Depp, including two friends who she was close with at the time, Raquel Pennington and iO Tillet Wright. She also had a forensic psychologist testify disagreeing with the personality disorder diagnoses, telling the court instead that Heard had post-traumatic stress disorder.
In his statement Wednesday, Depp said he is “overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and the colossal support and kindness from around the world.”
“I hope that my quest to have the truth be told will have helped others, men or women, who have found themselves in my situation, and that those supporting them never give up,” he said. “I also hope that the position will now return to innocent until proven guilty, both within the courts and in the media.”