The Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard libel case is in the jury’s hands

Actor Johnny Depp embraces his attorney Benjamin Chew after closing arguments at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, on May 27, 2022.(Photos: AFP)
Actor Johnny Depp embraces his attorney Benjamin Chew after closing arguments at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, on May 27, 2022.(Photos: AFP)
After 23 days of testimony that painted conflicting pictures of a tumultuous Hollywood marriage, lawyers for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard delivered their closing arguments Friday, seeking to persuade the jury that their client had been the person who was abused and defamed.اضافة اعلان

Depp’s lawyers asserted that their movie star client had been falsely disparaged in a Washington Post op-ed in which Heard referred to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse”.

The accusations of spousal abuse that she was referencing, the lawyers argued, had ruined Depp’s life.

“We ask you to give Mr Depp his life back by telling the world that Mr Depp is not the abuser Ms Heard said he is,” a lawyer for Depp, Camille Vasquez, said, “and hold Ms Heard accountable for her lies.”

Heard’s lawyers countered that not only were the accusations and the op-ed entirely true, but also, during legal proceedings in 2020, the actress was unfairly maligned when a lawyer, who represented Depp at the time, called her abuse accusations a hoax.

“In Mr Depp’s world, you don’t leave Mr Depp, and if you do, he will start a campaign of global humiliation against you,” argued a lawyer for Heard, Ben Rottenborn.

Now the case is in the hands of seven jurors who deliberated until Friday evening and left the Fairfax County Circuit Court with instructions to return Tuesday.

The trial has drawn widespread attention because the proceedings have been both televised and livestreamed through a pair of cameras in the courtroom, a rarity in Virginia. On one YouTube channel streaming the proceedings, called Law & Crime Network, more than 1 million users were reported to be watching.

Ultimately, the jury must consider the veracity and reputational impact of a narrow set of statements. But the six-week trial has encompassed testimony about a vast array of alleged incidents from Depp and Heard’s marriage.

Heard has accused Depp of repeated physical abuse that she said often coincided with drug and alcohol use and began with his accusing her of infidelity. She has also alleged several instances of sexual assault — including an accusation that he assaulted her with a bottle in Australia in 2015.

Depp has denied ever hitting or sexually assaulting Heard and has portrayed her as the aggressor in the relationship, recalling violence from her throughout their relationship, as well as angry tirades and demeaning name-calling. Heard has denied hitting Depp except in defense of herself or   her sister.

Testimony about the incidents often involved sensational details: disputed affairs with celebrities, graffiti written in blood and a missing chunk of Depp’s finger that forced the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie to pause production.

In laying out the highlights of their evidence, Depp’s lawyers reminded the jury of witnesses who said they did not see injuries on Heard around the times she reported having them, showed a photo of him with a “shiner” that he said she gave him and replayed audio of arguments between the estranged couple in which Heard admits to having hit Depp. In one audio clip, Heard can be heard saying, “I did start a physical fight,” challenging her claim that she only hit Depp as a defense. (Heard testified that in those instances, she hit him in response to his own aggression.)

Actor Amber Heard hugs her attorney Benjamin Rottenborn in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, on May 27, 2022. 

His team also pointed to instances where there were no medical records or photographs to corroborate her allegations of abuse.

“The ‘mountain of evidence’ that Mr. Depp abused Ms. Heard is simply not there,” Vasquez argued. “What we have is a mountain of unproven allegations that are wild, over the top and implausible.”

Heard’s lawyers described witnesses who said she had told them about the abuse. Rottenborn played a video of Depp angrily slamming kitchen cabinets and showed jurors a text in which the actor told Heard’s father he had gone “too far in our fight.” He then showed the jury a photo of Heard with a red mark on her face after, she said, Depp hurled a phone at her. Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, another of her lawyers, reminded the jury about a forensic psychologist who testified to reviewing a therapist’s notes — which were not entered into evidence — that reflect contemporaneous reports from Heard where she complained of sexual abuse.

“A ruling against Amber here sends a message that no matter what you do, as an abuse victim, you always have to do more,” Rottenborn said. “No matter what you document, you always have to document more. No matter whom you tell, you always have to tell more people.”

The publication that is at the heart of Depp’s complaint is Heard’s op-ed, which was spearheaded and prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union. Heard did not name Depp in the article, but he has argued that it clearly alluded to their relationship, damaged his reputation and “devastated” his acting career.

The jury is also charged with determining whether Depp defamed Heard in 2020 when a lawyer representing him made statements seeking to discredit her abuse accusations, including one that accused Heard and her friends of setting Depp up when one of them called the police to the couple’s home. (Before the call, Heard testified, Depp had thrown a phone at her at close range, hitting her in the face, which Depp denies.)

Heard’s lawsuit asserted that Depp, through those statements, “launched a nationwide campaign” to discredit her. Depp testified that he had not seen the statements at issue until the lawsuit was filed.

In a previous trial in London, a judge found that Depp had assaulted Heard repeatedly throughout their relationship. The 2020 trial in Britain revolved around a lawsuit Depp filed against News Group Newspapers, the publishers of The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper, and Dan Wootton, that newspaper’s executive editor, over a 2018 headline that called Depp a “wife beater.”

The jury verdict in this case must be unanimous, but the panel does not have to find the evidence convincing “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as in a criminal case. Each party has the burden of proving by the greater weight of the evidence that they had been defamed and that there was clear and convincing evidence that the other side had acted with actual malice while defaming them.

The jurors are also tasked with determining the amount of money either side deserves if he or she wins. Depp has sought $50 million, and Heard has asked for $100 million.

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