Six years after Amber Heard publicly named Johnny Depp as a domestic abuser, lawyers for the actor called her a habitual liar who ruined their client’s life with fabricated, career-destroying claims of physical violence.
“Exactly six years ago today, on May 27, 2016, Ms. Heard walked into court and filed a false report of domestic abuse against her husband of 15 months, Johnny Depp,” lawyer Camille Vasquez told jurors in the defamation trial between the ex-couple on Friday.
“The scene was a setup,” Vasquez said, recounting the day that Heard sought a restraining order against Depp in Los Angeles. “She tipped off the paparazzi so they would be waiting. They knew exactly where she would pause, which side of her face to photograph. And the photos captured what she wanted them to see: the image of a battered woman.”
After seven weeks, dozens of witnesses, and hundreds of spectators lining up daily in hopes of getting a seat in the courtroom, lawyers for the divorced couple finally presented their closing arguments on Friday. While the 2016 breakup was the initial focus of Depp attorneys’ final broadside, the case centers on an op-ed Heard published two years later that did not identify Depp but described herself as a survivor.
The glaring challenge facing Depp and his attorneys: a body of evidence pointing to Depp abusing Heard that a British judge called overwhelming when he reviewed it in a failed 2020 libel case by the actor in the U.K.
“While Mr. Depp’s name will be forever tarnished by these horrendous and false allegations,” Depp attorney Benjamin Chew added, “this case is about telling you his story and the truth about what really happened, which you’ve now heard. It is about restoring his lost reputation.”
Chew and Vasquez did all they could to recast the history as a story of a famous man being targeted.
Invoking Mr. Depp’s family, Chew said, “It’s about showing Mr. Depp’s children, Lily Rose and Jack, that the truth is worth fighting for. It is. And it’s about restoring Mr. Depp’s name and standing in the community to the fullest extent that you can.”
“And you can do something,” he said, “and only you, ladies and gentlemen, can do that for him.”
Depp is suing Heard for $50 million, claiming she defamed him even without naming him in the 2018 Washington Post op-ed identifying herself as a victim of domestic violence. Heard’s $100 million counter-suit claims that Depp, through a lawyer, Adam Waldman, defamed her with an orchestrated “smear campaign” calling Heard’s allegations a “hoax.”
Depp has testified that he, not Heard, was the victim of domestic violence—and that he has never struck a woman in his life.
The trial in Northern Virginia pitting the divorced actors against one another provided jurors and the public with a behind-the-scenes look into the tumultuous short-lived celebrity union that officially dissolved in 2017.
Jurors listened to starkly opposing accounts of the couple’s relationship, which began after the pair met on the set of the 2011 film The Rum Diary. According to Depp, he was subjected to verbal and physical abuse by Heard. “These things could happen very quickly,” he testified, explaining a black eye visible in a photograph of him and Heard from their honeymoon.
Heard claims that Depp was a verbal, physical, and even sexual abuser who had drug and alcohol abuse issues.
Depp’s lawyers on Friday didn’t characterize Heard’s allegations as a “hoax,” but said that she was the only physical batterer in their household, and they played back recordings of Heard admitting to having hit Depp and calling him a “baby” for objecting.
Vasquez claimed there were no recordings of Depp admitting to abuse, and no medical records or corroborating testimony in support of the graphic testimony that Heard gave describing beatings, choking, and, in one instance, being sexually assaulted with a liquor bottle.
In fact, audio has captured Depp admitting to head-butting her, and multiple witnesses backed up elements of her account, including an eyewitness account of violence by Depp offered by Heard’s sister.
“Either she’s a victim of truly horrific abuse,” Vasquez said, “or she is a woman who is willing to say absolutely anything.”
While both sides have presented a slew witnesses to bolster their claims, jurors at the end of the day must determine whether Heard acted with “actual malice” when she wrote the op-ed—meaning that the actress knew what she had written was false—or that she published the piece with “reckless disregard” for the truth.
The crux of Depp’s argument is that he never abused Heard, but she effectively branded him as an abuser, sabotaging his career. To prove his case, Depp’s legal team presented several witnesses, including members of his own entourage, to testify to Heard’s erratic behavior throughout their relationship.
“I wouldn’t say nightly [fights], but every other night, several times a week,” Travis McGivern, one of Depp’s bodyguards, testified earlier this month about a 2015 trip to Australia, adding that there was “lots of name-calling, lots of f-bombs”—generally from “Miss Heard directing her feelings toward Mr. Depp.”
Depp said that during that trip, Heard severed his fingertip after throwing a vodka bottle at him during a fight. Heard, however, states that Depp sexually assaulted her with a liquor bottle during a fight while Depp was on a three-day bender. And audio played at the trial appeared to capture Depp admitting to inflicting the finger injury on himself.
Jack Whigham, Depp’s talent agent, also testified in a video deposition that Heard’s op-ed devastated his client’s career. He said that before the op-ed, he had wrapped up negotiations for Depp to star in the sixth installation of Pirates of the Caribbean for $22.5 million. After it was published, he said, Disney abruptly ditched Depp from Pirates, a contention made by at least one Depp witness previously, and a key claim in the larger case.
“With respect to Johnny, it was catastrophic,” Whigham said. “After the op-ed it was impossible to get him a studio film, which is what we normally would have been focused on.”
But Tina Newman, a production executive at Walt Disney Studios, said via video deposition that she never saw any documents within the company that referred to Heard’s op-ed—and that it never played a role in their decisions around Depp.
Depp himself also took the stand, stating “the only person that I have ever abused in my life is myself,” and that he brought the lawsuit because he is “obsessed with the truth.”
“About six years ago, Ms. Heard made some quite heinous and disturbing [allegations of] criminal acts against me that were not based in any species of truth. It was a complete shock,” Depp said. “It just didn’t need to go in that direction, as nothing of that kind had ever happened.”
Heard’s legal team have told jurors a very different story: it was Depp who was the abuser in the relationship, and he and Waldman launched a “smear campaign” against the actress after their divorce and her op-ed that damaged her own career.
On the stand, Heard said her relationship to Depp was “almost like a never-ending fight” that she said she endured because she was deeply in love with the actor and always believed his assurances he would get sober. She said, however, that during their relationship she was subjected to systematic violence, including a “cavity search” for cocaine, and that Depp threatened to kill her.
Several witnesses confirmed that Heard had been injured during her relationship with Depp, and the actress’ sister, Whitney Henriquez, testified that Depp hit both of them in a fight in their Los Angeles penthouse.
Heard’s witnesses also disputed that the op-ed tarnished Depp’s career, pointing instead to his own self-destructive behavior.
“I am here because my ex-husband is suing me for an op-ed I wrote,” Heard said on the stand earlier this month. “I struggle to find the words to describe how painful this is.”
“This is horrible for me to sit here for weeks and relive everything,” she said soon after, before adding: “This is the most painful and difficult thing I have ever gone through, for sure.”