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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Jury awards Depp $15 million in libel case, $2 million to Heard in countersuit

A jury on Wednesday ruled in favor of Johnny Depp in his libel lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard, vindicating his stance that Heard fabricated claims that she was abused by Depp before and during their brief marriage.

The jury also found in favor of Heard, who said she was defamed by Depp’s lawyer when he called her abuse allegations a hoax.

Jury members found Depp should be awarded $10.35 million in damages, while Heard should receive $2 million.

The verdicts bring an end to a televised trial that Depp had hoped would help restore his reputation, though it turned into a spectacle of a vicious marriage. Fans – overwhelmingly on Depp’s side – lined up overnight to grab a seat in the courtroom. Spectators who couldn’t get in lined up on the street to cheer Depp and jeer Heard whenever either appeared outside.

Depp sued Heard for libel in Fairfax County Circuit Court over a December 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post describing herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” His lawyers said he was defamed by the article even though it never mentioned his name.

While the case was ostensibly about libel, most of the testimony focused on whether Heard had been physically and sexually abused, as she claimed. Heard enumerated more than a dozen alleged assaults, including a fight in Australia – where Depp was shooting a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel – in which Depp lost the tip of his middle finger and Heard said she was sexually assaulted with a liquor bottle.

Depp said he never hit Heard and was never out of control when drinking, though Heard’s attorneys highlighted text messages Depp sent to friends recounting the copious amount of alcohol and drugs he had taken at that time. Her attorneys also showed that Depp sent texts apologizing to Heard for his behavior and wrote profane messages to a friend in which Depp said he wanted to kill Heard and defile her dead body.

In some ways, the trial was a replay of a lawsuit Depp filed in the United Kingdom against a British tabloid after he was described as a “wife beater.” The judge in that case ruled in the newspaper’s favor after finding that Heard was telling the truth in her descriptions of abuse.

In the Virginia case, Depp had to prove not only that he never assaulted Heard, but that Heard’s article – which focused primarily on public policy related to domestic violence – defamed him. He also had to prove that Heard wrote the article with actual malice. And to claim damages he had to prove that her article caused the damage to his reputation as opposed to any number of articles before and after Heard’s piece that detailed the allegations against him.

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