Depp v Heard: Everything we know from week one of the celebrity defamation trial
The Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial is in session, and a lot went down before the court adjourned for the weekend.
On Monday, 11 April, the Depp v Heard defamation trial began and throughout the subsequent days, the formerly married couple sat on opposite sides of Fairfax County courtroom in Virginia as witnesses took to the stand.
In 2020, Depp lost an initial UK based libel case against The Sun which involved an opinion piece written by his ex-wife published in the Washington Post two years prior. The piece in question provides the footing for the current Virginia case, where Depp is suing Heard for $50 million and she is counter-suing for $100 million.
In said opinion piece, entitled ‘I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change’, Heard wrote that she was a victim of domestic abuse. While Depp was not specifically named in the piece, his lawsuit claims that it constitutes “defamation by implication” and was the reason for the actor’s loss of work.
A case of great cultural significance, the trial touches on celebrity status, high profile power play, the MeToo movement and at times appears more like a Hollywood soap opera than a legal battle.
Extended from four to upwards of six weeks, the court has already heard from witnesses including Depp’s best friend, Heard’s former assistant and the couple’s marriage counsellor.
The story so far
Following the publication of Heard’s op-ed, journalist Dan Woottan wrote an article for The Sun entitled, ‘GONE POTTY: How Can J.K. Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?’.
Depp brought a case against News Group Newspapers, which went on to reveal dark moments from their marriage together and Depp ultimately lost. He went on to apply to the Court of Appeal, but failed as a judge ruled that the article was substantially true. The actor was dropped from the Fantastic Beasts sequel and Warner Bros. cut ties with the Edward Scissorhands star.
The celebrity couple
The couple began their relationship in 2012, after meeting on the set of The Rum Diary a few years earlier. Marrying in 2015, Depp and Heard stayed together for just 15 months before filing for a divorce. Appearing in court with a bruised cheek, Heard applied for a restraining order on the grounds that her then-husband had “violently” attacked her, alleging other instances of “excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse.”
However, hours before the pair were due to appear in court for a civil trial, a joint statement was released to say that they had put their issues aside and that while their relationship was “intensely passionate and at times volatile” it was “always bound by love.” It also stated, “Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”
Ahead of the Virginia court case, Heard took to Instagram to write about the price women pay for speaking out against men in power. “I continue to pay that price, but hopefully when this case concludes, I can move on and so can Johnny. I have always maintained a love for Johnny and it brings me great pain to have to live out the details of our past together in front of the world.”
Opening remarks from Depp’s legal team
Since the case began, it’s been described as a mudslinging event in which the pair (and their legal teams) are constantly trying to one up each other. The opening statements alone have sent shockwaves throughout the courtroom, including graphic claims of sexual assault which were previously unknown.
Ben Chew, Depp’s attorney, told the jury that this was a case about the power words have to undermine a career. “They can cause irreparable harm to someone’s reputation, and when your career depends on your reputation that harm can be particularly devastating,” he said.
Acknowledging that Heard did not explicitly name her former husband, Chew states, “Everyone in Hollywood knew exactly what she was talking about… Today, Johnny Depp’s name is associated with a lie.” He then went on to imply that Heard’s article was a “career move” that served to align herself with the MeToo movement.
Camille Vasquez, another of Depp’s representatives, said, “Ms Heard took on the role of a lifetime, she couldn’t back down. She has been living and breathing this lie for years now. She is preparing to give the performance of a lifetime in this trial.”
The team also preempted any and all allegations to be heard over the coming weeks by telling jurors that they would be “designed to shock and overwhelm” and “distract [them] from evidence and common sense.”
Opening remarks from Heard’s legal team
On the other side of the courtroom, Heard’s lawyer — Benjamin Rottenborn — told the jury that they will see who the real Johnny Depp is throughout the course of the trial. “Because Johnny Depp brought this case, all of this is going to come out.” He also said that evidence will show that Depp physically and sexually assaulted Heard on multiple occasions.
Speaking on the opinion piece at the heart of it all, Rottenborn argues that this was simply a case of Heard exercising her First Amendment rights as an advocate. He impresses on the jury that it did nothing to damage the actor’s reputation, pointing instead to Depp’s downward spiral as a result of alcohol and drug use.
“This man’s poor choices have brought him to this point,” he said. “Stop blaming other people for your own self-created problems.” He said that Depp — “hellbent on revenge” — was choosing to sue his ex-wife instead of taking responsibility for his own actions and planned to turn the trial into a “soap opera.”
Elaine Bredehoft, another of Heard’s legal team, addresses the jury to express that during drug-fueled rages, Depp would engage in “verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of Amber.” She went on to provide the graphic details of two horrific incidents of sexual assault, one of which took place on a trip to Australia that heard had previously described as a “three-day hostage situation.”
Over the first week of the Depp v Heard trial, the court heard from Heard’s former personal assistant Kate James, Depp’s older sister Christi Dembrowski, Depp’s best friend Isaac Baruch, the couple’s marriage counsellor Dr Laurel Anderson and Depp’s addiction specialist Dr David Kipper. Depp’s friend Gina Deuters also took to the stand, but her testimony was struck as she had seen clips of the trial online.
Kate James — who worked for Heard from 2012 to 2015 — painted Amber as a “dramatic” and “verbally abusive” employer who once spat in her face when she was asked for a salary increase. She vowed that she had never seen the actress suffer any physical abuse at the hands of Depp, saying that in contrast to his then-wife, the actor was “a total Southern gentleman.” James’ testimony was previewed in the previous London trial, in which she gave evidence that Heard had appropriated James’ own experience of being violently raped at machete point in Brazil.
While Depp’s sister — who also worked as his personal manager — Christi Dembrowski was being examined, she revealed that herself and her brother have a difficult childhood at the hands of their abusive mother. Under oath, Dembrowski said that she saw the same patterns in the couple’s relationship as they had seen growing up, and that if she saw trouble brewing with Depp and Heard, she would book him a hotel room.
Old friend and next-door neighbour of Depp Isaac Baruch testified that Heard had told him that her then-husband had thrown a phone at her and hit her inside their LA home. He also said he never saw any evidence of abuse on her face. Pals since the 1980s, Baruch said that Depp had provided him with a place to live and financially supported him to the sum of $100,000 throughout their friendship.
During Baruch’s cross-examination, the jury were shown a text sent to him from Depp saying that “he hoped that Amber Heard’s rotting corpse is decomposing in the f***ing trunk of a Honda Civic.” Getting emotional towards the end of his testimony, Baruch said, “I want this all to end. For her to go heal, him to go heal.”
Later in the trial, Dr Laurel Anderson — the couple’s counsellor — stated that the pair engaged in “mutual abuse” throughout their relationship. Revealing that Heard would initiate incidents to prevent Depp from leaving, Dr Anderson pointed to her fear of abandonment originating at childhood as the root of these actions.
“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.” The therapist also said that she saw bruising on Heard’s face as well as in photos that were shown to her.
During the trial’s opening statements, Depp’s team alleged that Heard threw a bottle at Depp, causing his injured finger, but during the pre-recorded deposition of Dr David Kipper — who treated the actor for opioid addiction — it was said that Depp sent him a text to say that he had cut off his own finger while fighting with his wife. He also reported that his nurse found Depp with “scraped and bloody knuckles” after punching a wall during a fight with Heard.
Some famous faces are set to appear throughout the coming weeks including Elon Musk, James Franco, Ellen Barkin and Paul Bettany, with Amber Heard and Johnny Depp both set to take to the stand for cross-examination over the course of the six week trial period. The trial is being broadcast live on Youtube via the Law & Crime Network.