Jury begins deliberations in lawsuit between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard after 6 weeks of dramatic testimony

Jury members started their deliberations on Friday in the civil libel trial between actors Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard, after six weeks of courtroom drama that lifted the curtain on the stars’ troubled marriage.

Depp is suing Heard for $50 million in Virginia’s Fairfax County Circuit Court over a December 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post describing herself as “a public figure who represents domestic violence.”

Judge Penney Azcarate gave the jury his instructions Friday morning, ahead of the closing arguments of Depp and Heard’s lawyers. When deliberating, the jury will have to focus not only on whether there was abuse, but also whether Heard’s op-ed could be considered legally defamatory.

The article itself focuses primarily on domestic violence policy issues, but Depp’s attorney pointed to two passages in the article, as well as an online headline that they said defamed Depp, though the article never mentioned his name.

“She didn’t mention his name. She didn’t have to,” said Depp attorney Benjamin Chew. “Everyone knew exactly who and what Mrs. Heard was talking about.”

Depp v Heard defamation lawsuit continues in Fairfax, Virginia
Amber Heard testifies during the Depp vs Heard defamation lawsuit at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia, USA, May 26, 2022.

POOL / REUTERS


In the first passage, Heard writes that “two years ago I became a public figure representing domestic violence, and I felt the full force of the wrath of our culture.” Depp’s lawyers call it a clear reference to Depp, as Heard publicly accused Depp of domestic violence in 2016, two years before she wrote the article.

In a second passage, she says, “I had the rare vantage point to see in real time how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”

The online headline reads: “Amber Heard: I Speak Out Against Sexual Violence – And Faced The Wrath Of Our Culture.”

Heard “devastated his life by falsely telling the world she was a survivor of Mr. Depp’s domestic violence,” attorney Camille Vasquez told the jury in closing arguments.

Heard’s attorneys argue that Heard can’t be held liable for the headline because she didn’t write it, and that the two passages in the article aren’t about the abuse allegations themselves, but how Heard’s life changed after she made them. .

Heard filed a $100 million counterclaim against Depp after his attorney called her allegations a hoax. Although the counterclaim has received less attention during the trial, Heard attorney Elaine Bredehoft said it offers the jury an opportunity to compensate Heard for the abuse Depp did to her by staging a smear campaign against her.

“We’re asking you to finally hold this man accountable,” she told the jury. “He never took responsibility for anything in his life.”

Depp Heard Lawsuit
Actor Johnny Depp testifies during a hearing at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia, Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

Jim Watson / AP


Depp says he never punched Heard and that she made up the allegations of abuse to gain an advantage in divorce proceedings. He has said that he was often physically attacked by Heard.

Jurors have seen multiple photos of Heard with spots and bruises on her face, but some photos show only mild redness and others appear to show more severe bruising.

Vasquez accused Heard of editing the photos and said the evidence that Heard embellished some of her injuries is evidence that all of her abuse allegations are unfounded.

“You believe it all, or none of it,” she said. “Either she’s the victim of ugly, horrific abuse, or she’s a woman who wants to say absolutely anything.”

In Heard’s closing statement, attorney J. Benjamin Rottenborn said the nit-picking about Heard’s evidence of abuse ignores the fact that there is overwhelming evidence for her and sends a dangerous message to victims of domestic violence.

“If you didn’t take pictures, it didn’t happen,” Rottenborn said. “If you’ve taken pictures, they’re fake. If you haven’t told your friends, they’re lying. If you’ve told your friends, they’re part of the hoax.”

And he rejected Vasquez’s suggestion that if the jury thinks Heard would embellish a single act of abuse, they should ignore anything she says. He said Depp’s libel claim would fail if Heard suffered even a single incident of abuse.

“They’re trying to make you think Amber has to be perfect to win,” Rottenborn said.

Rottenborn told the jurors that even if they believe Depp’s claim that he never abused Heard, he still can’t win his case because Heard has the First Amendment right to speak on matters of public debate.

Depp hopes the six-week trial will help restore his reputation, although it has turned into a spectacle of a brutal marriage, with broadcast cameras in the courtroom capturing every turn in front of an increasingly enthusiastic audience as fans weighed in on social media and in the queued overnight for coveted courtroom seats.

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