Depp v. Heard: At Trials End


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Jack Hebert, Staff Reporter

On May 27th, in Fairfax County, Virginia, attorneys representing Johnny Depp and Amber Heard delivered their closing arguments, and the jury began their deliberation. Five days later, on June 1st, the jury returned their verdict, which ruled that Depp had proven all of the elements of defamation. With the presentation of the ruling, many around the country rejoiced, celebrating Depp’s victory, while others were angered at Heard’s loss, and some are still confused as to what exactly happened during the trial’s five weeks. So what exactly did happen, and what are some results of it?

The trial itself is a defamation lawsuit, which Depp filed against Heard. He claims that the 2018 Washington Post opinion editorial (op-ed) that Heard wrote, where she claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse, was directed at Depp, that it was false, and that it damaged his career. He sued for $50 million. Heard then filed a countersuit for $100 million, claiming that Depp was creating a smear campaign to ruin her reputation. As Depp was the plaintiff in this case, he was required to prove five main things. One, that the op-ed statement was made and published by Heard. Two, that it was about Depp. Three, that its claims were false. Four, that it had a defamatory implication to him, and five, that it was made out of malice.

The first two days of the trial consisted of jury selection and opening statements, where Depp’s and Heard’s legal teams explained their arguments to the jury. The first witness called to the stand was Christi Dembrowski, Depp’s sister and personal manager. She testified that Depp had sworn to never become an abuser after being abused by their mother. She also testified that Heard was verbally abusive to Depp. The next witness to take the stand was Isaac Baruch, a long time friend of Depp who lived at their guest house. He testified that he had never seen Heard with any signs of injury. The next important witness was Laurel Anderson, who was Depp and Heard’s marriage counselor. She testified that in their couples sessions, Heard would not let Depp speak, admitted to abusing Depp while his mother was in the ICU, and in solo sessions with Heard, she testified that Heard admitted to abusing Depp, not out of self defense, and tried to blame Depp for it. More deposition and video call witnesses took to the stand, all of them testifying to hearing Heard start arguments with Depp or see her abusing him. Then, Dr. Shannon Curry took the stand. Dr. Curry is a forensic psychologist, who testified that Heard’s claims of PTSD stemming from her relationship with Depp were false, saying that Heard “grossly exaggerated symptoms of PTSD.” She also diagnosed Heard with histrionic and borderline personality disorder, and explained how this was a “predictive factor” in women who instigate violence with their partners. Following Dr. Curry’s testimony, several analysts and talent agents took to the stand to explain how the claim of abuse severely damaged Depp’s career, before Depp himself took to the stand.

Depp testified about the abuse that he suffered at Heard’s hands, explaining how she physically and verbally abused him, how he lost part of his finger after she threw a whiskey bottle at him, and even brought in audio recordings of an argument between Heard and him, in which Heard can be heard saying “I was hitting you. I was not punching you.” He recounted several stories in detail of how he attempted to avoid Heard, but she would pursue him and start physical confrontations. On cross examination, Depp managed to hold his own, offering no contradictions to his story and giving proper and satisfactory answers to all of the questions. Following this powerful testimony, public opinion swayed drastically in his favor, with many abuse victims taking Depp’s side, and key witnesses for Heard, such as James Franco and Elon Musk, opted not to testify for Heard, fearing the effect it would have on their public image. Many celebrities began to side with Depp, including Aquaman star and Heard’s co-star, Jason Momoa. Johnny Depp had become uncancelled.

After some more depositions and video witnesses explaining how the op-ed was about Depp and how Heard suffers from psychological disorders, his legal team ended their side of the trial, and Heards team was now able to present witnesses. The first witness called to the stand was Dr. Dawn Hughes, a forensics psychologist who was brought in to refute Dr. Curry’s claims. Dr. Hughes testified that Heard experienced PTSD while filming Aquaman 2, which she claimed was triggered by intimate partner violence. However, Dr. Hughes had to be reminded several times not to read from her notes, making her look a bit unprofessional. It was also noted on cross examination that her notes contained references to James Franco and Elon Musk, although that topic was not explored. Dr. Hughes was then followed by Amber Heard.

Heard’s testimony was confusing. If you follow along with what she is saying, the spatial logic doesn’t quite add up, and she has an extremely good memory for events that took place over half a decade ago. Along with that, Heard appeared to be crying, making the sounds and face, but without any tears appearing. Interestingly, later in the trial, her acting coach testified that she struggles to cry when acting. The direct examination was fairly unremarkable, as the general public had been hearing these stories since 2018. But Heard made a fatal mistake in mentioning the name Kate Moss. The reason this is significant is because Kate Moss was an ex of Depp and is still on very good terms with him, but Heard had started a rumor that Depp pushed Moss down the stairs. Now that Heard brought up Moss, Depp’s team was able to call her as a witness when rebuttal time came.

While her direct examination was fairly unremarkable, the cross examination conducted by Camille Vasquez was a spectacle. Starting her cross off by reciting Heard’s audio quote where she tells Depp that nobody will believe him because he’s a man, Vasquez and Heard had a battle for the narrative. In this conflict, Vasquez brought up the fact that Heard never donated the $7 million that she pledged to the ACLU and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, the recordings of Heard admitting to abusing Depp, and the fact that Heard received a domestic violence charge in her previous relationship, ending the cross examination with the question of “So Johnny Depp isn’t the first partner you’ve abused, is he?” Overall, a very bland direct examination followed by a very exciting cross examination, and surprisingly enough, it appears that Depp’s team gained more from it than Heard’s team.

After Heard’s testimony, she was followed up by numerous depositions, in which it was reported that the jury seemed very uninterested. The jury did reportedly perk up when Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist, took to the stand in person. He served to be the Dr. Curry of the defense, and diagnosed Depp with several illnesses. However, as was brought up on cross, he had not actually evaluated Depp himself, and this falls under an ethics violation in psychiatric work. After Dr. Spiegel and a few more deposition and video witnesses, it was time for rebuttal witnesses.

Depp’s team called Morgan Tremaine to the stand first, who is an ex-TMZ employee. He testified that he was tipped off by Heard that she would be at a courthouse for an abuse trial, and that there would be a bruise on the right side of her face that she wanted to be on camera. He also testified that Heard sold a video that she took of Depp slamming cabinets to TMZ. After him was Morgan Knight, the manager of a Hicksville trailer park, who refuted Heard’s claims that Depp had trashed it out of rage, and that it had upset the manager, but it was instead Heard who was yelling at Depp, and that the trailer wasn’t trashed. Next to the stand was Dr. Curry again, to bolster her claims that were called into question by Dr. Hughes. They then called Kate Moss to the stand, who testified that the story of Depp pushing her down the stairs never happened, but that she had fallen down the stairs while drunk, and that Depp had quickly picked her up and taken her to her bedroom, before calling medical assistance. Finally, Johnny Depp took to the stand again, in which he explained that the cabinet video was him slamming them out of rage after discovering that his old lawyer and manager had stolen $650 million from him. He once again performed well on both direct and cross, and gave what many felt to be a genuine testimony. This concluded the plaintiff’s rebuttal witnesses.

While Depp’s team had the time to call in several different witnesses, Heard’s team did not. They only had the time to call Amber Heard back to the stand. The direct examination was once again unremarkable, with nothing new or shocking being revealed. It was then time for Camille Vasquez to cross examine Heard again, and this cross was even more combative than the last. Vasquez brought up Tremaine’s testimony regarding TMZ, said to Heard that “your lies have been exposed to the world,” and was able to apply enough pressure to Heard that she admitted to writing the op-ed about Depp, exclaiming “that’s why I wrote the op-ed.” The trial concluded the next day, when closing statements were delivered by both sides.

When the jury returned the verdict, they believed that Depp and his legal team had proven all five claims of the defamation trial. Depp was awarded $10.35 million for damages. While it is a far cry from his $50 million suit, it should be noted that Amber Heard’s net worth is around $8 million, which creates the possibility that she will file for bankruptcy due to this ruling. Another major issue for Heard is the fact that her claims of domestic abuse were found by the jury to be false in their ruling. This would mean that she committed perjury, which is the act of lying under oath in a court of law. The crime of perjury carries a criminal prosecution and, if found guilty, jail time. While it is unclear if any prosecutors in Virginia wish to try Heard, many legal experts believe there is a serious case against Heard, should this trial arise.

On the other hand, Depp is now seeing more success than he has in the last six years. Big names in Hollywood, such as Tim Burton and Robert Downey Jr, have publicly said that they want to make films with Depp. There are rumors of Depp being cast in Beetlejuice 2, and that Disney wants to bring him back for his iconic role as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean 6. Depp is back to his A list celebrity status, with many companies being even more inclined to hire him, attempting to catch a bit of his wave of popularity.

What still confuses many is how did Depp win in the US, when he lost the same trial in the UK? This confusion comes down to a misunderstanding of the UK trial. First, the UK trial was not nearly as publicized. There were no cameras in the courtroom, nor were there many reports on it during the trial, only after the ruling. Second, the UK trial was not a defamation trial targeted at Amber Heard, but instead a suit against The Sun tabloid for calling him a “wife beater.” Due to it not being directed at Heard, it was more difficult to prove defamation had occurred.

So what effect will this trial have? As Depp is saying, he hopes that “the position will now return to innocent until proven guilty, both within the courts and in the media.” It does appear that this is occurring, with people from many beliefs coming together to support Depp. This shattering of the previous belief of Depp as a menacing abuser, and Heard as an innocent victim, could possibly turn the general perception of those accused with crimes back to innocent until proven guilty. An interesting effect that can be seen is the abandonment of mainstream media, and an increase of viewership for independent media outlets. Many independent media groups or people covering the trial have seen a drastic increase in their viewership, especially in females. This may be due to the majority of independent media being in favor of Depp, while the mainstream media is very in favor of Heard. Whatever the reason, the trial has changed the media landscape in an unexpected way. As for the more direct results, Depp is back in action, and Heard could be out of acting roles for the foreseeable future. Millions of Depp’s supporters have been flooding his social media with kind words and congratulations, happy to see justice being delivered. As for those who still believe that Heard was the victim, they shall, as Depp said in his most iconic role, “always remember this as the day where they almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow.”