A Virginia jury on Wednesday (Jun 1) ruled that actor Amber Heard defamed ex-husband Johnny Depp in a widely watched six-week trial that featured graphic testimony detailing the former Hollywood couple’s soured relationship.
While the seven-person jury also ruled in favour of Heard on one count in her countersuit against Depp, the Pirates Of The Caribbean film star depicted the decision as a vindication, and his former wife said it was “a disappointment”.
Jurors awarded Depp US$15 million in damages (US$10 million in compensatory damages and US$5 million in punitive damages) from Heard. However, because the state law caps punitive damages at US$350,000, that means Depp was ultimately awarded US$10.35 million.
The panel ordered Depp to pay Heard US$2 million in damages.
Depp, 58, sued Heard for US$50 million and argued that she defamed him when she called herself “a public figure representing domestic abuse” in a newspaper opinion piece.
Heard, 36, countersued for US$100 million, saying Depp smeared her when his lawyer called her accusations a “hoax”.
Depp has denied hitting Heard or any woman and said she was the one who turned violent in their relationship.
“The jury gave me my life back. I am truly humbled,” Depp, who watched the verdict from Britain, said in a statement issued by a spokesperson.
“The best is yet to come and a new chapter has finally begun,” he added, ending with Latin phrase “Veritas numquam perit. Truth never perishes.”
Heard, seated in the courtroom between two of her lawyers, looked down as the verdicts were read.
“The disappointment I feel today is beyond words,” she said in a statement. “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.”
“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women,” she added. “It is a setback.”
JURY HEARS ABOUT COUPLE’S CLASHES
Depp and Heard met in 2011 while filming The Rum Diary and wed in February 2015. Their divorce was finalised about two years later.
At the centre of the legal case is a December 2018 opinion piece by Heard in the Washington Post in which she made the statement about domestic abuse. The article did not mention Depp by name but his lawyer told jurors it was clear that Heard was referring to him.
The jury ruled Depp was defamed by a passage in the article and by the headline, which read: “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”
Jurors rejected two of Heard’s three counterclaims. They concluded she was defamed when an attorney for Depp told a media outlet that Heard attempted to stage property damage to show police after an alleged fight.
“Amber and her friends spilled a little wine and roughed the place up, got their stories straight under the direction of a lawyer and publicist,” the statement said in part.
During six weeks of testimony, Heard’s attorneys argued that she had told the truth and that her comments were covered as free speech under the US Constitution’s First Amendment.
Throughout the case, jurors listened to recordings of the couple’s fights and saw graphic photos of Depp’s bloody finger. He said the top of the finger was severed when Heard threw a vodka bottle at him in 2015.
Heard denied injuring Depp’s finger and said Depp sexually assaulted her that night with a liquor bottle. She said she struck him only to defend herself or her sister.
Testimony was livestreamed widely on social media, drawing large audiences to hear details about the couple’s troubled relationship.
Once among Hollywood’s biggest stars, Depp said Heard’s allegations cost him “everything”. A new Pirates movie was put on hold and Depp was replaced in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, a Harry Potter spinoff.
Depp lost a libel case less than two years ago against the Sun, a British tabloid that labelled him a “wife beater”. A London High Court judge ruled that he had repeatedly assaulted Heard.
Depp’s lawyers filed the US case in Fairfax County, Virginia, because the Washington Post is printed there. The newspaper was not a defendant.