FAIRFAX: A US jury on Wednesday found Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamed each other, but sided far more strongly with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star following an intense libel trial involving bitterly contested allegations of sexual violence and domestic abuse.
Depp, who lost a libel case in London in 2020 against The Sun for calling him a “wife-beater,” celebrated the split verdict as a victory and said the jury “gave me my life back.”
The five-man, two-woman jury, after deliberating over three days, found that Heard had defamed Depp in an op-ed piece, and awarded him $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.
At the same time, the jury found that the 58-year-old Depp had made defamatory claims against the 36-year-old Heard and also awarded her compensatory damages – but a much lower amount of $2 million.
Heard, her eyes downcast throughout, listened impassively, as the verdict was read out in Fairfax County Circuit Court near the US capital – later declaring herself “heartbroken” by the outcome.
“The disappointment I feel today is beyond words,” she said in a statement. “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 idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously.”
Depp, who has been in England for the past few days, was not in court for the verdict in the high-profile trial that hinged on lurid claims and counterclaims of domestic abuse between the Hollywood celebrities.
But in a statement he welcomed the verdict.
“The jury gave me my life back,” he said. “From the very beginning, the goal of bringing this case was to reveal the truth, regardless of the outcome.
“The best is yet to come and a new chapter has finally begun.”
Depp filed suit against Heard over an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post in December 2018 in which she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
The Texas-born Heard, who had a starring role in “Aquaman,” did not name Depp in the piece, but he sued her for implying he was a domestic abuser and sought seeking $50 million in damages.
Heard countersued for $100 million, saying she was defamed by statements made by Depp’s lawyer, Adam Waldman, who told the Daily Mail her abuse claims were a “hoax.”
Both needed to prove the statements were defamatory, and to win compensatory or punitive damages, the jury needed to find they were made with actual malice – with knowledge that they were false or with “reckless disregard” for whether they were false or not.
Dozens of witnesses testified during the trial, including bodyguards, Hollywood executives, agents, entertainment industry experts, doctors, friends and relatives.
Depp and Heard each spent days on the witness stand during the televised trial, which was attended by hundreds of fans of the “Pirates” star and accompanied by a #JusticeForJohnnyDepp campaign on social media.
Video and audio recordings of heated, profanity-laced arguments between the couple were played for the jury, which was also shown photographs of injuries allegedly suffered by Heard during their volatile relationship.
Hours of testimony were devoted to a grisly finger injury that Depp suffered while filming an installment of “Pirates” in Australia in March 2015.
Depp, a three-time Oscar nominee, claimed the tip of a finger was severed when Heard threw a vodka bottle at him. Heard said she did not know how the injury occurred.
Both agreed that Depp went on to scrawl messages on walls, lampshades and mirrors using the bloody digit.
Heard said Depp would become a physically and sexually abusive “monster” during alcohol- and drug-fueled binges and resisted her repeated efforts to curb his drinking and drug use.
Depp testified that it was Heard who was frequently violent and said it has been “brutal” to listen to “outlandish” accusations of domestic abuse made against him.
Heard, who was married to Depp from 2015 to 2017, obtained a restraining order against him in May 2016, citing domestic violence.
Both sides claimed damage to their Hollywood careers.