‘Let’s burn Amber!’: Defense in Johnny Depp defamation case brings up actor’s text messages

The history of drug and alcohol abuse by the star of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ surfaced at a long and grueling hearing on Thursday inside a Virginia courthouse

Johnny Depp testifica en el juicio contra Amber Heard
Johnny Depp answering questions in court on Thursday in Fairfax (Virginia).JIM LO SCALZO / POOL (AP)

Cocaine, ecstasy, MDMA, Xanax pills, opiates, marijuana... There was almost no known drug left to mention in the review that actress Amber Heard’s lawyer made of the past hobbies of her ex-husband, the actor Johnny Depp. The hearing took place on Thursday at the Fairfax County Courthouse in the US state of Virginia, before the jury that is examining the $50 million (€47 million) defamation suit over the alleged damage to his reputation caused by an op-ed in which a 35-year-old Heard discussed what it was like being “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” The couple divorced in 2016, the year that she filed for a restraining order, which unleashed a media and judicial earthquake that took them to court in London a year ago and is now being replicated in the United States.

On the third day of testimony by Depp, who maintains that he never hit his ex-wife “or any other woman,” it was time for cross-examination. For six exhausting hours, Heard’s lawyer Benjamin Rottenborn undermined the arguments of the actor, who has presented himself as a victim of her abuse. Rottenbom carefully reviewed Depp’s past history of unchecked alcohol and drug use, which Heard alleges led him to behave inappropriately during their marriage. The couple were wed in 2015 after three years of dating, but the marriage only lasted 15 months.

Rottenborn showed the court email and cellphone messages sent by Depp to his friends, including one in which he fantasized about killing her. Photographs were also projected that attested to his consumption habits at the time (whisky, cocaine, marijuana) and images taken by Heard, such as one in which the actor appears wasted, with ice cream spread on his lap (which he maintains that she threw at him taking advantage of the fact that he was asleep, “not unconscious,” under the influence of opiates). In addition, recordings were heard, again collected by the actress, in which he is heard vomiting, breaking things, threatening to harm himself, babbling nonsense or out of control.

In one of those emails, in the middle of an exchange with a friend, the British actor Paul Bettany, Depp writes: “Let’s burn Amber!!!”. Bettany replies, “On second thought, I don’t think we should.” “Let’s drown her before we burn her!” continues the star of Pirates of the Caribbean. “And I’ll fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead.” Depp has apologized to the judge for the language in some of his messages, and has asked not to take into account what he expressed when he wrote prey “to a pain that took him to dark places.” At the time, he was addicted to opiates, which were prescribed after he was seriously injured on a film set.

Another period of the relationship on which Heard’s lawyer focused took place during a trip between Boston and Los Angeles, while Depp was participating in the movie Black Mass. Again, he writes to Bettany: “Drank all night before I picked Amber up to fly to L.A. this past Sunday … Ugly, mate … No food for days … Powders … Half a bottle of Whiskey, a thousand red bull and vodkas, pills, 2 bottles of Champers on plane.” Depp maintains that at that time he was sober, and that he simply took two oxycodone pills (a very powerful pain reliever) and a glass of champagne during the flight. For the actress’s defense, the message to Bettany is further proof that he is lying. As evidence of that trip, a recording made by Heard was reproduced inside the court in which the actor is heard letting out incomprehensible screams.

Rottenborn also exhibited Depp’s message exchanges with the singer Marilyn Manson, in which both conspired to do drugs together (the actor has acknowledged that on one occasion he gave Manson a pill “so that he would stop talking so much”), as well as other exchanges with members of her family, his security environment, or with Elton John, in which he acknowledged that Heard made him happy as long as he managed to stay away from the “Monster.” The term is having a relevant role during the trial, which started last week. For the couple it served as a euphemism for cocaine or the demons of addiction, indistinctly.

The lawyer also dwelled on the time when the plaintiff developed a fondness for vandalizing hotel rooms. A plaintiff who in this case is also a defendant: Heard responded to Depp’s complaint by suing him for $100 million for the alleged damage to her career after her ex-husband’s entourage dispatched as “bullshit” the accusations of abuse that ended the relationship.

In the op-ed article published by Heard in 2018 in The Washington Post, the actress did not mention Depp by name, but the latter feels that this piece ruined his career (ending his participation in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, perhaps his most successful role).

The questioning will resume on Monday.

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