On the fourth and final day of the cross-examination of Johnny Depp in his defamation case against his former wife, Amber Heard, jurors were presented with audio recording in which the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise actor appeared to warn Heard of violence if their arguments escalated.
“The next move, if I don’t walk away … it’s going to be a bloodbath, like it was on the island,” Depp said on the recording played in court.
The 58-year-old actor could also be discerned shouting “Shut up, fat a**” after Heard told him to “put your cigarettes out on someone else! You f***ing have consequences for your actions!”
But Depp’s lawyers later played a tape in which Heard said to her husband, “I want couch. By the way, you just threw a f**king cigarette on me.” Asked what the exchange meant, Depp explained “it’s pretty clear she’s ordering me on the couch”.
He acknowledged he may have flicked cigarette ash at her. “She’s not screaming in pain as if I put a cigarette out on her”, adding any suggestion he had was “ridiculous”.
Ben King, a British house manager-butler employed by Disney to manage the couple’s rented house in Australia, described overhearing an argument in which Heard said, “Why’d you take your hand away from me, Johnny? Don’t you love me anymore?”
“I think he replied, ‘Of course I do, don’t be silly.’” King continued, and described Heard’s tone as “like a spoiled teenage child”. After a marital argument escalated, King testified that he found Depp’s severed fingertip “directly below the bar”.
But in other exchanges in the Alexandria, Virginia, courtroom on Monday, Depp wrote to his former wife’s mother describing himself as a “poor old junkie” who depended on his wife and her family.
“What you do need to know [is] that your daughter has risen far above the nightmarish task of taking care of this poor old junkie. Never a second has gone by that she didn’t look out for me, to have her eyes on me to make sure that I was OK,” he wrote, the court heard.
“She has the strength of a thousand men,” Depp added in the note.
The exchange came close to the end of Heard’s attorneys’ opportunity, with Depp on the witness stand, to paint the actor as a violent domestic abuser whose behavior was integral to dependencies on drugs and alcohol.
The actor has described the accusations of substance abuse as “grossly embellished” and argued it was Heard who escalated their fights to violence.
In one recording, Depp and Heard could be heard negotiating time-outs to their disputes, with Heard saying she could not trust her husband to resume their discussions.
“How can I trust you that it will be a few minutes when you’ve done this in the past and disappeared for hours?” Heard says.
“In arguments you tend to throw punches,” Depp says.
“I’m talking arguments, not the times when it’s physical,” Heard responds. “You take off right away. You don’t deal with the issue. You don’t deal with the confrontation. And you split. You do for an indeterminate amount of time. You do it without actually respecting me.”
Under questioning from his own lawyers, Depp was asked how he felt about the article Heard wrote for the Washington Post describing herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse” two years after she’d been granted a restraining order against him for throwing a cell phone.
“At that point it had been a good two solid years since the allegations had been planted firmly on my back,” Depp testified. “I couldn’t believe it … it was clear that, the more hit pieces came out on me, it was clear that Ms Heard’s righteous chase against me was continuing.”
“Something had to be done,” he said, referring to bringing the defamation complaint in Virginia. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Depp said he felt he had no opportunity to address the allegations against him, and by then Disney had dropped him from the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise. “It hurt, like somebody hit me in the head with a two-by-four. Even if I tried to do an interview to explain myself, it turned into a hit piece.”
On Monday, a recording was played of Depp and Heard discussing how to manage domestic violence claims that were already in the press. “I don’t know how to get my, um, reputation back,” Heard says. Depp suggested they write a joint letter saying they love each other and blaming the media for creating a storm.
Earlier, Heard’s attorney, Ben Rottenborn, had shown Depp negative news articles he said would show that the actor’s bad press preceded the 2018 Washington Post article at the center of the case.
“I’ve been in the racket of Hollywood since 1984 … of course people write negative stories,” Depp countered.
Depp also explained that his texts to his actor friend Paul Bettany in which he’d said “Let’s drown her before we burn her. I will f*** her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead” were never “intended to be real”.
The text about burning Heard, he said, was directly from Monty Python and the sketch about burning witches and then drowning the witches. “This is a film we’d all watch when we were 10 – it’s just irreverent and abstract humor.”
The actor told the jury that when he used the term “monster” it was his term to describe himself when he’d relapsed out of addiction recovery, or failed to attain sobriety.
In his arguments with Heard, he said that when the tenor of the exchanges was reduced to scream obscenities, “the monster was just, for me, was a guy who’s dumb enough to take part in arguments that would ultimately went nowhere.”
For both plaintiff and defendant, much of the legal trial has been about establishing probability that their account makes the alleged defamation seem more feasible or unlikely.
Much of what has been heard is not directly relevant to the alleged libel but offered as background that could ultimately decide the fate and the reputations of the parties. The case continues.