Actor Johnny Depp is suing ex-wife Amber Heard for libel after she wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post in 2018 referring to herself as a public figure representing domestic abuse. (Photo by Jim LO SCALZO / POOL / AFP)
For six weeks, millions watched the multimillion-dollar trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard unfold live. The actors accused each other of abuse and called supporting witnesses to the stand in an attempt to sway the jury in a Virginia courtroom. The case finally wrapped up on Friday and the verdict is fast approaching, with the jury continuing deliberations on Tuesday.Here’s what you missed leading up to the verdict.
Depp launched a $50 million defamation suit against Heard in response to a 2018 Washington Post op-ed that Heard wrote about her experiences with domestic assault. The piece didn’t name Depp, but the Oscar-nominated actor maintains it’s “plainly” about him and that it cost him his career. Heard is countersuing Depp for $100 million in damages.
What started this whole thing?
Depp says the op-ed cost him his career, while Heard is countersuing Depp over public statements one of his lawyers made that referred to her allegations as “fake” and a “hoax.” The actors were together from 2012 until they divorced in 2016. They accuse each other of abuse while maintaining their own innocence.
What are the allegations?
No, it’s civil, and the burden of proof lies with Depp, the accuser. That means he has to convince the jury he suffered damages and that he didn’t ever abuse Heard. Truth is a defence with defamatory statements, so even if the jury believes the WaPo piece was about Depp—something Heard denies—it’s protected if Heard successfully establishes that Depp abused her at least once. Because Depp is a public figure, it makes it harder for him to win in a defamation suit. He lost a previous case in the UK, where a court decided he likely abused his ex-wife.
So, it’s not a criminal case?
The jury is simultaneously deciding Depp’s defamation suit and Heard’s countersuit. The civil trial is meant to determine whether statements made in the media by both sides have cost the actors their reputations and potential earnings. The jury will decide if either or both are entitled to damages, and if so, what amount.
What is the jury deciding?
The seven-person jury is made up of five men and two women.
What’s the jury makeup?
The court has heard harrowing allegations of abuse from both actors, who’ve produced images, audio recordings, former love letters, and private text messages to make their cases. In one string of texts, Depp said he wanted to “burn” Heard and that he would “fuck her burnt corpse” to “make sure she is dead.” In an audio recording played repeatedly for the jury, Heard tells Depp that she “hit” him, but didn’t “punch” him. “I did not fucking deck you,” she says in the audio. Pictures of Heard with a bruised and swollen face, and hair ripped out of her scalp, accompany several allegations of abuse she says she experienced at the hands of Depp. The court also saw an image of Depp’s bruised face, which he alleges appeared after she struck him. Depp says Heard cut off the tip of his finger during the infamous Australia fight in 2015. (At the time, he told people he did it himself.) It was during that fight that Heard says Depp repeatedly threw glass and penetrated her with a bottle. She told the court Depp held a broken bottle to her jaw and told her he’d “carve up” her face.
What did it hear over the past six weeks?
Because the Washington Post’s online edition is published via servers in Fairfax County, Depp’s able to sue Heard there. His team has previously told reporters that they wanted the case to proceed in the state because Virginia has relatively lax anti-SLAPP legislation, or legislation that makes it difficult for people to use the courts as a way to intimidate people. (SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuits against public participation.)Heard’s team had tried to move the case to California, where anti-SLAPP laws are stricter.
Why is the case taking place in Virginia?
As early as Tuesday. Jury deliberations started Friday afternoon after Depp and Heard’s legal teams wrapped up their closing arguments. The presiding judge gave the group the long weekend off.
When can we expect a verdict?
The trial has been livestreamed for millions of viewers and has turned into a dystopian source of entertainment. Content creators have made memes about it to gain followers and clout, and online commentary has overwhelmingly skewed in favor of Depp.That’s why regardless of the outcome, experts said the way Heard has been mocked online has already caused harm. They said it’s causing a silencing effect that’ll make it difficult for survivors of domestic violence, current and future, to come forward because they fear similar humiliation.Follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.