Depp-Heard trial verdict: jury rules in favor of Johnny Depp

The focus of the case was a 2018 editorial Heard wrote calling herself ‘a public figure representing domestic abuse’

The jury in the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation trial has ruled in favor of Johnny Depp, finding that a Washington Post editorial she wrote defamed her former husband.

The jurors’ unanimous decision on Wednesday capped a seven-week trial in a Virginia courtroom which featured dozens of witnesses and experts weighing in on whether Depp was abusive to Heard – or vice versa – during their 15-month marriage.

Jurors ruled in favor of Depp’s claim of defamation across three counts, awarding the actor $15m. The judge later reduced the amount to $10.35m, citing a limit to punitive damages under state law. In a statement, Depp said that six years after he had been accused of domestic abuse by Heard, “the jury gave me my life back. I am truly humbled.”

Heard won on one count of her countersuit, in which she demanded $100m and argued she was defamed by a Depp press agent who called her allegations “an abuse hoax” aimed at capitalising on the #MeToo movement.

She was awarded $2m.

Depp was not present for the verdict and watched from the UK. Heard was in the courtroom as the verdict was read out.

In his statement, issued via a spokesperson, Depp said: “My decision to pursue this case, knowing very well the height of the legal hurdles that I would be facing and the inevitable, worldwide spectacle into my life, was only made after considerable thought.

“From the very beginning, the goal of bringing this case was to reveal the truth, regardless of the outcome. Speaking the truth was something that I owed to my children and to all those who have remained steadfast in their support of me. I feel at peace knowing I have finally accomplished that.”

Depp continued: “I hope that my quest to have the truth be told will have helped others, men or women, who have found themselves in my situation, and that those supporting them never give up.

“I also hope that the position will now return to innocent until proven guilty, both within the courts and in the media.”

The actor signed his statement “Veritas numquam perit” – Truth never perishes.

Heard left the court without comment. But the 36-year-old actor posted soon after on Twitter that she was heartbroken by the verdict.

“The disappointment I feel today is beyond words. 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,” Heard said.

“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,’’ she said.

Outside the court, Depp attorneys Benjamin Chew and Camille Vasquez offered comments before a cheering crowd of Depp fans. The verdict, said Vasquez, “confirmed what we have said from the beginning – that the claims against Johnny Depp were defamatory and unsupported by any evidence”.

Chew said Depp’s legal team was “most pleased that the trial has resonated with so many people in the public who value truth and justice”. The attorneys did not take questions.

The stunning verdict is a sharp reversal on a London libel court action that Depp brought against the Sun newspaper and its editor, Dan Wootton, that found it was “substantially true” that Depp was a “wife beater”.

The US legal bar to prove defamation is far higher than in the UK, making Wednesday’s verdict in Fairfax, Virginia, potentially a far more substantial vindication for Depp than the ruling against him in the UK.

In the Virginia case, Depp had to prove not only that he never assaulted Heard, but that Heard’s article defamed him and also that she had done so “with malice” or knowing that the claim was false.

“For Heard the verdict is absolutely damning, but for Depp it’s reputation restoration,” said Amber Melville-Brown, head of the US media and reputation team at the international law firm Withers.

“A jury is supposed to be a cross-section of society, and all indications were that Johnny Depp was winning in the court of public opinion and the jury reflected that.”

For Heard, she said, the UK ruling “doesn’t cancel out for her that seven people in Virginia believed she falsified her evidence”.

Brett Turnbull at Turnbull Holcomb & Lemoine said the verdict reflected that the jury found only mutual name calling and false truths to have hurt the other, not physical or emotional mutual abuse.

“We need not forget that the verdict said both intentionally used words to hurt each other that were untrue,” Turnbull said.

Virginia attorney Chris Leibig said the finding was typical for jurors in the state who “tend to apply facts to the law strictly, element by element”.

Depp, in his final testimony to the jury last week, said the trial gave him a chance to clear his name in a way that the UK trial never allowed.

“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,” Depp said.

Heard, in her counterclaim over statements Depp’s lawyer Adam Waldman made to the Daily Mail, said the trial has been an ordeal inflicted by an orchestrated smear campaign led by Depp.

Heard said after the verdict: “I believe Johnny’s attorneys succeeded in getting the jury to overlook the key issue of Freedom of Speech and ignore evidence that was so conclusive that we won in the UK.”

The case turned on a December 2018 opinion piece Heard wrote in the Post, describing herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse”.

Heard did not name Depp in the piece. The 58-year-old actor sued anyway, demanding $50m.

In final arguments, attorneys for Heard told the panel ruling against her would mean they were telling abuse victims: “If you didn’t take pictures, it didn’t happen. If you didn’t seek medical attention, you weren’t injured.”

The lawyer Benjamin Rottenborn said Heard deserved to win the case if jurors believed she “was abused by Mr Depp even one time”.

Lawyers for Depp sought to convince jurors Heard lied about abuse, citing records in which the actor admits to hitting Depp and calling him “a baby”.

Recordings of Depp admitting to hitting Heard were not introduced as evidence at the trial because “it didn’t happen”, Depp attorney Camille Vasquez said.


Edward Helmore

The GuardianTramp

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