Following six weeks of courtroom drama that peeled back the veil on the stars’ turbulent marriage, jurors began deliberations in the civil libel lawsuit between actors Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard on Friday.
In Virginia’s Fairfax County Circuit Court, Depp is suing Heard for $50 million over an op-ed she penned in The Washington Post in December 2018, portraying herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.”
Friday morning, before the start of closing arguments from Depp and Heard’s attorneys, Judge Penney Azcarate gave the jury its instructions. The jury will have to evaluate not only whether there was abuse, but also whether Heard’s op-ed essay can be regarded as legally defamatory when they deliberate.
The article itself focused on domestic abuse policy issues, but Depp’s lawyer claimed that two sections in the piece, as well as an online headline, defamed Depp, despite the fact that the article never mentioned his name.
“She didn’t say anything about him. She wasn’t required to do so “Benjamin Chew, Depp’s lawyer, claimed “Everyone knew who Ms. Heard was talking about and what she was talking about.”
“Two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I faced the full power of our culture’s fury,” Heard writes in the first sentence. Given that Heard publicly accused Depp of domestic violence in 2016, two years before she penned the essay, Depp’s lawyers say it’s an obvious reference to him.
“I had the rare vantage position of observing, in real-time, how institutions shield men accused of abuse,” she writes in another section.
“Amber Heard: I spoke out against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s fury,” runs the headline on the website.
In closing statements, lawyer Camille Vasquez told the jury that Heard “ruined his life by fraudulently informing the world she was a sufferer of domestic abuse at the hands of Mr. Depp.”
Heard’s lawyers say that she can’t be held liable for the headline since she didn’t create it and that the two passages in the story are about how Heard’s life altered after she made the allegations, not the charges themselves.
After Depp’s lawyer dismissed her charges as a fraud, Heard filed a $100 million complaint against him. Though the counterclaim has gotten less attention during the trial, Heard’s lawyer, Elaine Bredehoft, believes it gives the jury a way to compensate Heard for the trauma Depp has inflicted on her by directing a smear campaign against her.
“We’re pleading with you to bring this man accountable,” she told the jurors. “In his entire life, he has never accepted responsibility for anything.”
Depp claims he never hit Heard and that she made up the allegations of violence to get an edge in the divorce procedures. He has claimed that Heard regularly assaulted him physically.
Multiple images of Heard with marks and bruises on her face have been shown to jurors, however, some simply show moderate redness while others appear to show more severe bruising.
Vasquez accused Heard of doctoring the images, claiming that evidence that she exaggerated some of her injuries proves that all of her allegations of abuse are false.
“You either believe everything or nothing,” she remarked. “Either she’s been the victim of heinous, heinous abuse, or she’s a woman who will say anything.”
J. Benjamin Rottenborn, Heard’s attorney, said the nitpicking over Heard’s evidence of abuse misses the fact that there is substantial evidence in her favor and sends a harmful message to domestic-violence victims in his closing argument.
“It didn’t happen unless you took pictures,” Rottenborn added. “If you did take photos, they are phony. They’re lying if they claim you didn’t tell them. If you told your friends, they’re all in on it.”
He also rejected Vasquez’s idea that the jury should discount anything Heard says if they suspect she is fabricating a single act of abuse. Depp’s libel claim, he said, must collapse if Heard was subjected to even one incidence of abuse.
“They’re trying to persuade you that Amber has to be flawless to win,” Rottenborn explained.
Even if jurors believe Depp’s claim that he never assaulted Heard, Rottenborn warned them that Depp can’t win his lawsuit because Heard has a First Amendment right to comment on public issues.
Depp is hoping that the six-week trial will help him reclaim his reputation, despite the fact that it has turned into a spectacle of a savage marriage, with broadcast cameras in the courtroom capturing every twist for an increasingly rapt audience, as fans weighed in on social media and queued overnight for coveted courtroom seats.