Jury in Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation case hears of ‘mutual abuse’

Couple’s relationship counsellor says Heard would ‘initiate a fight’ at times while ex-assistant says she was ‘belligerent and abusive’

The dueling defamation case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard dug further into the heart of an often toxic and violent relationship on Thursday as jurors heard from the couple’s marriage counsellor, Heard’s former personal assistant and Depp’s addiction specialist.

Dr Laurel Anderson, who was employed by Depp and Heard as a counsellor to discuss their relationship, described “mutual abuse” between the two. She said that, on more than one occasion, Heard had initiated incidents to stop Depp leaving, stemming from her fear of abandonment, according to Anderson. She also said she had seen photos of Heard with bruises.

“It was a point of pride to Heard, if she felt disrespected, to initiate a fight,” Anderson said. “If he was going to leave her to de-escalate a fight, she would strike him to keep him there. She would rather be in a fight to keep him there.”

Meanwhile, Kate James, Amber Heard’s former personal assistant, testified that Heard “felt she had the right to spit in my face” when James asked for a salary increase. She claimed Heard was taking prescription stimulant drugs, sometimes appeared intoxicated, and had a “kick-the-dog kind of relationship” with her sister, Whitney Heard.

Heard, she said, often exhibited “manic episodes … similar to if someone was on some kind of amphetamine drug. Moving fast, not making a lot of sense. Hyper-organizing.” James said Heard also became “belligerent and abusive”, would scream at her over the phone, and send abusive text messages at all times of day. “All incoherent. I was just someone to lash out at.”

James also testified that Heard had discussed with her taking psychedelic mushrooms, ecstasy and cocaine, and sometimes appeared under the influence of illegal drugs. “Disorientated, partying with friends, lots of heavy drinking, dancing, laughing, playing … all the sorts of things that go hand in hand with drugs,” James said.

After a May 2014 argument, James added, she received an “emergency call” to meet her boss at the Chateau Marmont hotel.

She found Heard with four girlfriends who, she said, had spent the day drinking by the pool, James testified. “It seemed a little conspiratorial to me, kind of like a strategy meeting. She’d made it seem like an emergency but it seemed like a pool party.”

James, in a video deposition, further added that Heard told her she didn’t enjoy hanging out with her husband’s friends because they were “boring and all old men playing guitars and it wasn’t interesting to her”.

James also made no effort to conceal her admiration for Depp, whom she described as “peaceful, calm, shy and almost quiet … he’s such a gentleman, a total southern gentleman”.

Coming four days into the trial, James’s testimony marks an escalation in Depp’s legal effort, which has so far been to paint Heard as a schemer who concocted accusations of his abuse against her, and then attempted to hitch those to the #MeToo movement in a Washington Post opinion article which forms the basis of the current defamation case.

Much of the former assistant’s testimony to the court in Fairfax, Virginia, was previewed at London’s Royal Courts of Justice last year when James gave evidence that Heard had appropriated her story of being a “sexual violence survivor” during Depp’s unsuccessful libel action against the publisher of the Sun newspaper, after it termed him a “wife-beater”.

In that case, James said that Heard had appropriated James’s own experience of being violently raped at machete point in Brazil. “She twisted it into her own story and she used it for her own use,” she said.

Efforts by Depp’s legal team to disparage Heard and dismantle her credibility have also come at cost for the actor. In text messages shown to the court a day earlier, the actor referred to her as a “rotting corpse”.

That pattern continued on Thursday, with testimony that seemed to show that Depp at that time blamed his drug dependency on his relationship with his wife.

Dr David Kipper, Depp’s addiction specialist, testified that he had planned to detox the actor several years ago from dependencies on alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines and cocaine over two weeks on Depp’s island in the Bahamas. “He was concerned he’d never feel normal without his drugs,” Kipper said.

In August 2014, Kipper visited Depp on the island to begin the process. The actor reported that he was uncomfortable, and repeatedly tried to fire his doctor and to back out of treatment. “He didn’t want to proceed,” Kipper said. “He didn’t think he could do it.”

Back in Los Angeles, Depp was soon drinking at a bar on Sunset Blvd. Kipper’s nurse once found Depp with bloody knuckles after hitting a wall in frustration or anger. On another occasion he kicked in a trailer door on a movie set.

The following year, Kipper flew to Australia to tend to the actor. He received a text from Depp asking him to visit and saying he’d cut the top of his finger off during a fight with his wife. “The house was a mess,” Kipper testified. “Things on the floor. Things thrown around. Things were just out of order. It looked to me like there was blood in the wall,” Kipper said.

The doctor said he was concerned that Depp was not following his protocols and threatened to withdraw his care in March 2015. Months later Depp texted Kipper placing blame for his Xanax intake on Heard.

“Zanax takes the edge off,” he wrote. “I don’t take them all that often, just when my brain is inundated with this badgering and half-truths from my wife.”

• This article was amended on 19 April 2022. The Chateau Marmont hotel incident took place in May 2014, not May 2016 as an earlier version said.


Edward Helmore

The GuardianTramp

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