Jury rules in favor of Johnny Depp: Amber Heard sentenced to pay $15 million for defamation

The jurors also awarded the actress $2 million in damages after agreeing that she was negatively affected by claims that her abuse allegations were a hoax

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, walking out of the courtroom after one of the hearings. Photo: GETTY IMAGES | Video: REUTERS

The seven members of the jury have found that the actress Amber Heard defamed her ex-husband, actor Johnny Depp, with her article in The Washington Post in which she described herself as a victim of abuse. Depp also defamed the actress, the verdict stated, but in only one of the three statements relevant to the case, as decided by the jury. The decision marks a victory for the actor. Heard is obligated to pay him $15 million (€14 million), while Depp has been ordered to pay his ex-wife $2 million. The jury also establishes that Depp did not abuse Heard.

Amber Heard was present in the courtroom, her head bowed, as the court declared her guilty of defamation. Johnny Depp has been photographed in recent days singing onstage with Jeff Beck in Sheffield and London.

Of the $15 million that the actress is required to pay her ex-husband, $10 million are for compensatory damages and $5 for punitive damages. The $2 million that Depp is required to pay is for compensatory damages and none for punitive damages. Legal sources, however, point out that legislation in the state of Virginia, where the case has been tried, limits punitive damages to a quantity of $350,000, meaning that Heard will only have to pay $10.35 million.

The reading of the verdict has been delayed because the jury had incorrectly filled out the sentencing form. Judge Penny Azcarate had explained to them that if they considered that defamation had taken place, they had to establish the amount of damages. That gave a clue about the verdict: there was defamation, but it was not clear on which side. It turned out to be both of them, though to different degrees. That blank space likely belonged to the zero of the punitive damages.

Heard and Depp’s reactions

Heard expressed her pain at the verdict. In a statement, the actress said, “The disappointment I feel today is beyond words. I’m heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband.” She continued, “I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously.”

Amber Heard hugs her lawyer Elaine Bredehoft after the verdict.
Amber Heard hugs her lawyer Elaine Bredehoft after the verdict.EVELYN HOCKSTEIN (AP)

And Depp has claimed his victory: “Six years ago, my life, the life of my children, the lives of those closest to me, and also, the lives of the people who for many, many years have supported and believed in me were forever changed. All in the blink of an eye. False, very serious and criminal allegations were levied at me via the media, which triggered an endless barrage of hateful content, although no charges were ever brought against me. It had already traveled around the world twice within a nanosecond and it had a seismic impact on my life and my career. And six years later, the jury gave me my life back. I am truly humbled,” he wrote in a statement.

The jury has ruled that three statements made by Heard in her column for The Washington Post constituted defamation:

—”I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

—”Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”

—”I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”

One Depp statement—which actually came from his then-lawyer, Adam Waldman, who Heard considered spoke on the actor’s behalf—was ruled to be defamation:

—”This was simply a hoax, a deception. They set up Mr. Depp by calling the police, but the first attempt was unsuccessful. Agents went to the penthouses, searched and interviewed them thoroughly, and left after seeing no damage to the face or property. So Amber and her friends spilled some wine and messed up the place, cleared their stories under the direction of a lawyer and a publicist, and then made a second call to 911,″ according to The Daily Mail.

Johnny Depp's lawyers Benjamin Chew and Camille Vasquez.
Johnny Depp's lawyers Benjamin Chew and Camille Vasquez.EVELYN HOCKSTEIN (AFP)

However, Depp’s lawyers’ statements referring to the alleged abuse as a “hoax” and “deception” are not considered false or defamatory. The jury’s conclusion is clear: there was no abuse or rape, and Heard fabricated a hoax.

The jury began its deliberations last Friday. Judge Penney Azcarate warned the members that they could not talk about the case with anyone, not family or friends, nor could they follow the news, opinions and comments that have flooded the media.

The trial took place over a month and a half of marathon sessions in the courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia. Depp filed a lawsuit demanding $50 million dollars (about €47 million) in compensation. Amber Heard filed a countersuit for $100 million against Depp, although her lawyer has admitted that the figure was not realistic: what they wanted was to send a message.

The trial, broadcast live by numerous media outlets in the United States, has generated significant buzz. The public could enter the room where the hearings were held, but it only had capacity for about 100 people. The lines outside the courtroom steadily grew longer, and during the last week of the trial, many people slept outside the court’s doors to secure their place.

The sessions have revealed the intimate details of the Hollywood stars’ violent relationship. Each side presented a completely different version of the same story.

The audience that came to court largely supported Johnny Depp. Some of his followers dressed up as pirates and cheered him on entering and leaving. Amber Heard has received much less support. She has been booed on occasions and has been the victim of harassment on social networks. An expert hired by the actress’s defense says she has received constant, humiliating negative messages.

“The most intimate, embarrassing and deeply humiliating things I have ever survived are being used against me every day, over and over again. It is torture. I am suffering emotionally. I have a baby. I want to keep moving forward. I want Johnny to move on too. I want him to leave me alone,” said the actress at a trial session. The actor’s defense also wanted to move on: “We ask you to give Mr. Depp his life back by telling the world that Mr. Depp was not the abuser, but Mrs. Heard was and that they hold her responsible for her lie,” said his attorney Camille Vasquez.

On the closing day, Johnny Depp’s lawyers asked the jury to decide on the general credibility of the actor and actress. They concluded that Heard was the real abuser, who had “played the performance of her life” by lying about the abuse.

Heard’s lawyers, for their part, appealed to the freedom of expression enshrined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Their argument was that even if the jury found the account of sexual assault, rape and physical, psychological and financial abuse to be untrue, Heard still maintained her right to freedom of expression.

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