Ghosts of the past testify against Johnny Depp at trial

Amber Heard’s witnesses included the actor’s former agent, ex-sentimental partner and one-time business manager

Johnny Depp in the courtroom where the trial is being held.
Johnny Depp in the courtroom where the trial is being held.SHAWN THEW / POOL (AP)

Things are getting increasingly difficult for members of the jury in the defamation case pitting Johnny Depp against Amber Heard. Judge Penney Azcarate warned them on Thursday, before the sessions were suspended until Monday, that for the next three days they cannot talk to anyone about the trial that everyone else is talking about. Jurors are going to have to isolate themselves so as not to read, see or hear anything about the trial, either on television, newspapers, magazines, websites, social media or anywhere else.

The trial, which has turned into a media circus, is nearing its end. The judge gave each party 61 hours and 15 minutes to defend their position. The plaintiff (Depp) has 18 and a half hours left and the defendant (Heard), has eight hours and 15 minutes. The sessions are scheduled to end on Friday, May 27, with the closing arguments. Then the jury will deliberate.

At stake are $150 million (€142 million): $50 million that the actor is claiming from his ex-wife and $100 million that she is countersuing for. But no matter who wins the case and the money, both actors are coming out badly from the public exposure of their relationship and their problems.

Trying to ruin a party’s reputation and credibility is a common strategy at trials, especially when the jury has to decide. Both sides have worked hard at it. Amber Heard’s defense on Thursday presented testimony from Johnny Depp’s former agent, from his more or less fleeting ex-partner Ellen Barkin, from a former bandmate and from his ex-business manager.

Amber Heard, this Thursday, during the trial.
Amber Heard, this Thursday, during the trial. SHAWN THEW / POOL (EFE)

Tracey Jacobs, Depp’s agent for 30 years, spoke of his “extraordinary talent” as an actor, that “he became the biggest star in the world”, but also how his behavior in the last years of their relationship was being “unprofessional”.

“He was showing up late to set consistently on virtually every movie. I would get yelled at,” said Jacobs. “I told him, ‘You have to stop doing it. This is hurting you.”

Depp’s lawyers claim that the domestic abuse allegation made by Heard in a column she published in The Washington Post in 2018 damaged his career, but Jacobs went on to say his star was already “dimming” through his own fault. Depp fired Jacobs in 2016. Asked about it, the former agent stated: “He terminated essentially everyone in his life and I was along for the ride, I guess.”

His former business manager, Joel Mandel, declared that Depp led a life of excess and waste, that drugs and alcohol became habitual for him and that he stopped moderating his public behavior. Mandel estimates that Depp earned around $600 million during the nearly two decades he represented him. He also denied accusations that he stole money from Depp, and said that he was never formally charged or held responsible for financial wrongdoing. The actor fired his manager in 2016 and the two reached a settlement in 2018.

Actress Ellen Barkin said that her relationship with Depp lasted several months. “The friendship went from purely platonic to a romantic one,” she said, then added, “Can you change romantic for sexual?” Her recorded testimony was of special interest to Heard’s defense because in it she said that one time there was “a fight going on” in a hotel room in Las Vegas, and Depp threw a bottle of wine across the room, mirroring the ill-treatment that Heard herself claims to have suffered.

A Disney executive called to testify by Heard’s defense said she had not found any company document suggesting that the cancellation of the project to shoot Pirates of the Caribbean 6 was due to the publication of Amber Heard’s column in The Washington Post.

A social media expert called by Heard’s defense testified about the impact of the case in the virtual realm. Ron Schnell, from Berkeley Research Group, said his analysis had found millions of negative interactions for the actress and that the most common hashtags were #JusticeForJohnnyDepp, #AmberHeardIsAnAbuser, #WeJustDontLikeYouAmber and #AmberTurd.

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