The most compelling testimonies given throughout the Depp v Heard defamation trial
With closing arguments given this morning, the tumultuous Depp v Heard defamation trial has come to a close. While we await a verdict, let’s look back at the most compelling evidence given on both sides.
Since the trial began on 11 April in Fairfax County Courtroom, the jury has heard from a number of key witnesses and has seen both Johnny Depp and Amber Heard take to the stand.
In what has become one of the most high-profile celebrity legal battles in modern history, the Depp v Heard defamation trial has been a source of much online scrutiny and side taking. While the ultimate decision is up to the jury, let’s recap some of the main points of note…
The case at hand
Johnny Depp is suing Amber Heard for $50 million on the grounds that the actor’s reputation and career suffered following a 2018 op-ed written for the Washington Post. Though he was not explicitly named, his ex-wife wrote that she was a victim of domestic abuse and Depp’s counsel are arguing that this constitutes “defamation by implication”.
Heard is counter-suing for $100 million, arguing that Depp and his legal team defamed her in their statements that her allegations were an “abuse hoax”. She claims that Depp “authorised and conspired” with his counsel in order to “attempt to destroy and defame Ms Heard in the press”.
The first week
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’s own experience of being violently raped at machete point in Brazil.
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. “If he was going to leave her to de-escalate a fight,” she said, “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.
Johnny Depp took to the stand to explain why he brought this case against his ex-wife. He recounts his “complete shock” when Heard made “some quite heinous and disturbing” allegations six years ago. “There were arguments and things of that nature but never did I myself reach the point of striking Ms Heard in any way, nor have I ever struck any woman in my life.
“I pride myself on honesty and truth. Truth is the only thing I’m interested in, lies will get you nowhere. I’m obsessed with the truth. Today is the first day I can speak about this case.”
Speaking on his history of substance abuse, Depp says it was a way to “numb the ghosts of my youth”, but he believes it was “self-medication”. He also said that “the characterisation of [his] ‘substance abuse’ that’s been delivered by Ms Heard is grossly embellished” and that much of it is “just plainly false”.
Going on to pinpoint Heard’s anger, Depp says it seemed like she had “pure hatred” for him and that when it would become violent, “it could begin with throwing a TV remote at my head” or a “glass of wine in my face”.
Speaking on their Australia trip in 2015, Depp claims that following a discussion about prenuptial agreements, Heard “hurled” a liquor bottle at him, and that it smashed behind his head. She then grabbed the second bottle and threw it at him, and while he “felt no pain whatsoever”, he says he then realised the tip of his finger had been severed. “I was looking directly at my bone… sticking out… blood was pouring out.”
“I didn’t want to disclose that it was… what it was… I didn’t want to disclose that it had been Ms Heard… I didn’t want to get her in trouble,” Depp says. The court was also shown a photo of Depp with a bruise on his cheek, following what he describes as a “kind of a roundhouse punch from Ms Heard”.
When Amber Heard’s lawyer Ben Rottenborn began his cross-examination, he read out a series of messages sent by Depp to his friend, Paul Bettany. “Let’s burn Amber,” later adding, “Let’s drown her before we burn her. I will f*** her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.”
In regard to these messages, Depp says that he is “embarrassed and ashamed… That the heat of the moment and the pain went to dark places… Sometimes pain has to be dealt with with humour, sometimes very dark humour.” When Depp’s cross-examination was coming to a close, he stated that he had lost “nothing less than everything” and that he will carry these allegations “for the rest of [his] days”.
The article that started it all
The court heard from American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spokesperson Terence Dougherty, an organisation of which Amber Heard was an ambassador. Mr Dougherty testified that it was actually an ACLU staff member who wrote a first draft of the article, and that ACLU, Heard’s legal team, and Heard herself reviewed the article numerous times to ensure it did not breach the non-disclosure agreement signed as part of their divorce.
Published roughly a week after the release of Aquaman, it was said that this was done in order to “capitalise on the tremendous campaign” for the film, in which Heard co-starred.
Having pledged to split her $7m divorce settlement between the ACLU and an LA children’s hospital, the court heard that ACLU has so far only received $1.3 million, the last contribution of which had been made in 2018. It was also said (though not confirmed) that $500,000 of the $1.3 million was paid by Elon Musk.
The court hears from Heard
Up until this point, the jury has been told of instances wherein Heard would exhibit controlling, mocking, and violent behaviours toward her then-husband. During Heard’s time on the stand, she paints a very different picture.
Heard testified that the first time Depp abused her, he had been drinking and she suspected use of cocaine. “I ask him about the tattoo he has on his arm … I asked what it said.” Depp told her it said ‘wino’ (a coverup for his ‘Winona Forever’ tattoo), and the actress recalls laughing, because she thought he was joking. She then goes on to say, “he slapped me across the face and I laughed, because I didn’t know what else to do. I thought, ‘this must be a joke’.”
Throughout the course of her testimony, Heard details a number of occasions that Depp would behave violently, often resulting from substance abuse and binge drinking. She describes an incident in 2014 as a culmination of Depp’s hatred and jealousy of James Franco, a fellow actor who Heard states Depp hated. “He just kicked me in the back. I fell to the floor,” she said. “No-one said anything. No-one did anything.”
Heard also stated that the first time she “landed a blow” on her then-husband throughout the course of their relationship was during an altercation where Heard’s younger sister intervened, and that she was acting on protective instincts.
Heard also goes on to give a graphic account of a trip to Australia which had previously been described as a ‘hostage situation’, during which Depp’s finger was severed. She testified that Depp shoved her onto a countertop, ripped her nightgown and penetrated her with a liquor bottle.
“I remember just not wanting to move because I didn’t know if it was broken … I didn’t know if he would know it was broken,” Heard said. “I just remember thinking, ‘Please God, please, I hope it’s not broken.’”
However, the following week, Heard adjusted her testimony and told the court that the alleged abuse from Depp actually began earlier than she first recalled, changing the date of the original incident from 2013 to the early part of 2012.
She then recounted a time when Depp allegedly assaulted her while the two were on honeymoon in South Asia. According to her, the two argued on the last night of their time aboard the Orient Express as Depp wanted “permission” to break his sobriety. He had already been drinking “brown liquor” that night she recalled, alleging that Depp slapped her and then held her by her neck.
“Violence became normal towards the end [of the relationship],” according to Heard.
Describing her 30th birthday in April 2016, Heard says that she and Depp had gotten into a fight the evening after her party, during which Depp “chest bumped” her, “pushed [her] to the ground” and “grabbed [her] by the pubic area”. She alleges that he later screamed “Happy f*cking birthday” at her, also leaving “a note to that effect”.
Heard also maintained that she is “proud” of the Washington Post op-ed, telling the court that she “had the paper article framed”.
We now await a verdict
Kate Moss appeared via video link to confirm that Johnny Depp did not push her down a flight of stairs, as Heard had previously implied.
Former Hicksville Trailer Palace owner, Morgan Night, was called in as a rebuttal witness by Depp’s legal team to discuss an incident that happened on his property when Depp and Heard stayed at the California trailer park in June 2013. Asked what happened on the evening in question, he says that he did not see Depp yelling at Heard, claiming that it was actually the other way around.
“She started yelling at him, and I didn’t want to hear it. Honestly, it was really triggering because I’ve been in an emotionally abusive relationship before.” Night said that Depp became quieter and quieter as the evening went on. “At the end of the night, I heard a commotion. I was inside the house and came out. I couldn’t tell what was going on. Mr Depp and Ms Heard were having a discussion about I’m not sure what.”
While Heard had previously claimed that Depp had trashed the trailer, Night testified that only a light fixture had been broken and that he just bought a new one on eBay using Depp’s agent’s credit card, which he billed for $62.
As the trial has finally come to an end and the court has heard closing statements from both sides, Judge Penney Azcarate has indicated that the jury may begin deliberations. However, they will not return until Tuesday after the long holiday weekend.
The jury has only to believe one instance of abuse to make Heard’s statements in the Washington Post op-ed substantially true.