Key moments from the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial

After six weeks of testimony, a split verdict is returned on the former couple’s dueling defamation claims

More than three years after Johnny Depp sued ex-wife Amber Heard for defamation over an op-ed she wrote for the Washington Post about surviving domestic abuse, jurors returned a split verdict on the former couple’s dueling defamation claims.

After six weeks of testimony, amounting to 61 hours granted to each side, the Depp-Heard saga was only on its face a defamation case. It gave Depp an opportunity to air his narrative of a 15-month, love-to-hate marriage, and Heard, by return, to describe hers.

Both left no stone unturned in that quest, and their respective positions drew fans and detractors from among the public. There was, however, no devastating, trial turning moment or uplifting clarity. Rather, it was a slow grind of mutual debasement.

Here are some notable moments:

Depp testifies

Depp was the first of the couple to testify, swearing in April that Heard’s “heinous” and “disturbing” allegations of abuse against him forced him into court to show people that the claims were “not based in any species of truth”.

“Never did I, myself, reach the point of striking Ms Heard in any way, nor have I ever struck any woman in my life,” Depp said.

He admitted abusing alcohol and drugs, and he sometimes referred to his self-intoxication as the “monster”. But he also claimed that Heard had “grossly embellished” his acknowledged substance abuse.

Depp told the jurors that his former wife verbally berated him and would sometimes “strike out” at him. Jurors were shown a photo of Depp with a bruise on his face and a second with scratches.

“If I stayed to argue, eventually, I was sure it was going to escalate into violence, and oftentimes it did,” Depp testified.

Heard testifies

Heard’s attorneys, however, maintained that Depp’s abuse of alcohol and drugs, and his unreliability, were what cost him his career, specifically his chance to reprise his role as Jack Sparrow in a planned sixth installment of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

Under two days of direct examination, Heard said that she had felt like “the most beautiful person in the whole world” at the start of their relationship. But she said a dozen incidents of physical and sexual abuse against her accompanied Depp’s lifestyle of heavy drinking and drug use.

She claimed he regularly hit her and that she sometimes feared for her life. Jurors were shown emails from Depp to his friend Paul Bettany that described a desire to hurt her. “Let’s drown her before we burn her” and “I will fuck her burnt corpse afterward to make sure she is dead”, he wrote in one.

Depp claimed the messages were taken out of context and were partly drawn from histrionics of Monty Python sketches.

Heard denied Depp’s claim that she threw a vodka bottle in Australia that severed the top of Depp’s middle finger. In fact, she told the jury that Depp sexually assaulted her by inserting a liquor bottle in her vagina. “I was scared,” she said. “I had just married him.”

A broad supporting cast (including dogs)

But the testimony of the two actors, each delivered with considerable theatrical timing, was perhaps less important than the testimony of witnesses called to support or supplement their claims.

Those testifying for Depp said they did not see him strike Heard, but said they had witnessed him become jealous and angry. Depp attorney Camille Vasquez sought to underscore a lack of medical records supporting Heard’s abuse claims.

In an important moment of testimony, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union acknowledged that its communications team had written the first draft of the Washington Post article and pitched it to the paper for publication on the same day Heard’s Aquaman was released.

Jurors also heard that Heard had not fulfilled a pledge to donate $3.5m to civil rights groups and that some of what had been paid – $1.3m – came from Elon Musk, whom Heard had met at a charity gala around the time she filed for a temporary restraining order against Depp. Heard said she stopped paying the donation when Depp sued her.

The couples’ two dogs, “teacup” yorkshires named Pistol and Boo, also made cameos, though not on the stand. In 2016, feces were discovered on the marital bed. Depp indicated it could not have come from either dog. A Depp security guard said Heard told him it was “a horrible practical joke gone wrong”. Heard denied any involvement.

Celebrities on both sides

Model Kate Moss appeared briefly to quash rumors that Depp had pushed her down some stairs during their relationship. But actor Ellen Barkin said Depp once threw a wine bottle across a room. Other witnesses scheduled to appear for Heard, including Musk and James Franco, did not testify.

But the trial was also punctuated by lawyers’ objections and frequent, off-audio sidebars. At one point, a Heard attorney objected to his own question.

Yet the frequent attorney calls for the judge to rule “hearsay”, “lack of foundation”, or “beyond the scope” pointed to how witnesses could often drift from evidence supporting either side’s claims of defamation.


Edward Helmore

The GuardianTramp

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