On Wednesday, a jury awarded Johnny Depp more than $10 million in his libel lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard, confirming his claim that Heard fabricated claims that she was abused by Depp before and during their brief marriage.
The jury also sided with Heard, who claimed Depp's lawyer defamed her by calling her abuse allegations a hoax. She was granted $2 million in damages by the jury.
The verdicts brought to a close a televised trial that Depp had believed would help him restore his reputation, but instead turned into a spectacle of a vicious marriage. Throughout the trial, Depp's fans waited in line overnight for coveted courtroom seats. Those who were unable to enter the courtroom gathered on the street to cheer Depp and jeer Heard whenever they appeared outside.
Heard, who remained stoic in the courtroom as the decision was pronounced, expressed his sorrow. In a statement posted on her Twitter account, she said that,
"I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It’s a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously."
Depp, who was not inside the courtroom on Wednesday, sued Heard for libel in Fairfax County Circuit Court, citing an op-ed she published in The Washington Post in December 2018 in which she described herself as "a public figure representing domestic abuse." His lawyer claimed the article defamed him despite the fact that his name was never mentioned.
Despite the fact that the case was ostensibly about libel, the majority of the testimony centred on whether Heard had been physically and sexually abused as she claimed. Heard described more than a dozen alleged assaults, including a fight in Australia during which Depp lost the tip of his middle finger, and Heard said she was sexually assaulted with a liquor bottle while filming a "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel.
Heard's attorneys pointed to years-old text messages Depp sent apologising to Heard for his behaviour as well as profane texts he wrote to a friend in which Depp indicated he wanted to kill Heard and defile her dead body, despite Depp's claim that he never hit her.
In some ways, the trial was a rerun of Depp's case against a British tabloid after he was referred to as a "wife beater" in the UK. The judge ruled in favour of the paper after concluding that Heard was speaking the truth in her accusations of abuse.
Depp had to prove not only that he never assaulted Heard but also that Heard's article, which primarily focused on public policy linked to domestic abuse, defamed him in the Virginia case. He had to further prove that Heard wrote the article with malice in mind. And, in order to recover damages, he had to prove that her article damaged his reputation rather than any of the other articles that detailed the charges against him before and after Heard's article.
In his final testimony to the jury, Depp said that the trial allowed him to clear his name in a way that the U.K. trial never did.
Depp said that,
"No matter what happens, I did get here and I did tell the truth and I have spoken up for what I’ve been carrying on my back, reluctantly, for six years."
Heard, on the other hand, claims that the trial has been an ordeal brought on by Depp's organised smear campaign.
In her final testimony, Heard said that,
"Johnny promised me — promised me — that he’d ruin my life, that he’d ruin my career. He’d take my life from me."
The case fascinated millions of people because of its gavel-to-gavel television coverage and fervent social media followers who dissected everything from the actors' mannerisms to the possible symbolism of their clothing. Both actors leave the trial with their reputations in tatters and their careers in jeopardy.
The trial was called a "classic murder-suicide" by Eric Rose, a crisis management and communications expert in Los Angeles.
Eric Rose said that,
“From a reputation management perspective, there can be no winners. They’ve bloodied each other up. It becomes more difficult now for studios to hire either actor because you’re potentially alienating a large segment of your audience who may not like the fact that you have retained either Johnny or Amber for a specific project because feelings are so strong now.”
Depp, a three-time Oscar nominee for best actor, has been a bankable star until now. His performance as Captain Jack Sparrow in the "Pirates of the Caribbean'' film helped make it a global franchise, but he no longer plays the role. (Both Heard and Depp's teams blame each other.) He was also replaced as the title character in "The Crimes of Grindelwald," the third "Fantastic Beasts'' spin-off film.
Depp received a standing ovation Tuesday night in London after performing for nearly 40 minutes with Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall, despite testimony at his trial that he could be violent, abusive, and out of control. He previously toured as part of the Hollywood Vampires alongside Joe Perry and Alice Cooper.
Heard's acting career has been more modest, and her only two upcoming performances are in a short film and the forthcoming "Aquaman" sequel, both of which are set for release next year.
Depp's lawyers fought to keep the case in Virginia, partly because state law offered some legal advantages over California law, where the two live. Because The Washington Post's printing presses and web servers are located in Virginia, a judge concluded that the dispute should be heard there.
Amber Heard, in a statement issued after she lost Johnny Depp's defamation trial, said that,
"I'm heartbroken that the mountain of evidence…wasn't enough to stand up to the disproportionate power…and sway of my ex-husband."
Calling it a "setback", Amber added,
"I'm sadder…that I seem to have lost a right I thought I had as an American- to speak freely and openly."