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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: trial explained as defamation court case continues in Virginia

The defamation lawsuit was filed back in 2019, and, following delays, officially started earlier this month

The defamation lawsuit between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard continues in the US as the actor concludes his testimony.

The Hollywood stars were present on the first day of the case heard at Fairfax County Courthouse in Virginia, and were greeted by a crowd of journalists and supporters.

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Here’s what we know so far...

Johnny Depp is seen outside court for the start of a civil trial at Fairfax County Circuit Court on April 11, 2022 in Fairfax, Virginia. Depp is seeking $50 million in alleged damages to his career over an op-ed Heard wrote in the Washington Post in 2018. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

What is the defamation case about?

Depp launched the defamation case against Heard in 2019, after she wrote an opinion piece published in the Washington Post in December of 2018 in which she described herself as a victim of domestic abuse and thereby implicating him as an abuser.

Depp’s lawyers claim that the article falsely implies that Heard was physically and sexually abuse whilst she was married to the Pirates of the Caribbean actor.

While her article doesn’t mention Depp by name, Heard writes: “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.”

Depp and Heard first started dating after they met filming the 2011 movie The Rum Diary, and the two married in LA in February 2015.

Amber Heard is seen outside court for the start of a civil trial at Fairfax County Circuit Court on April 11, 2022 in Fairfax, Virginia. Depp is seeking $50 million in alleged damages to his career over an op-ed Heard wrote in the Washington Post in 2018. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

In May 2016 Heard obtained a restraining order against Depp after accusing him of abuse, which he denied.

The couple settled their divorce out of court in 2017, with Heard donating her $7 million (£5.5 million) settlement to charity.

According to documents filed on 14 and 15 March, celebrities like James Franco (127 Hours, The Disaster Artist), Paul Bettany (WandaVision, Captain America: Civil War) and Tesla CEO Elon Musk are set to testify to the court virtually.

Depp lost a similar lawsuit in the UK a few years ago when, in 2020, he went up against the Sun regarding an article in which it was claimed that he was a “wife beater”.

It was ruled that Depp had assaulted Heard, and made her fear for her life on a number of occasions.

What has happened so far?

The second week of Depp’s defamation lawsuit against Heard concluded with members of the jury being shown video and audio of the actor’s allegedly violent episodes.

Depp was seen to be slamming kitchen cabinets closed and pouring himself a large glass of wine in one clip before appearing to become irate at being filmed by Heard.

The actor, wearing a feathered hat and dark sunglasses, also appears to hurt himself as he swears and kicks out at pieces of furniture.

ohnny Depp demonstrating how he claims he shielded himself from an alleged attack by his ex-wife Amber Heard (Photo: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Depp, who denies physically abusing the Aquaman star, on Thursday admitted he had “assaulted a couple of cabinets”.

In another audio recording, Heard can be heard repeatedly saying “please don’t hurt yourself” as Depp threatens to cut himself with a knife.

The evidence was produced on day three of Depp’s testimony at the trial in Virginia, during which a series of graphic and violent text messages he had sent about Heard were also shown to the court.

Amber Heard listening to ex-husband Johnny Depp, as a picture of an injury to his face is seen on a screen, during his defamation trial against her at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse (Photo: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

In a 2013 text conversation Depp said to actor Paul Bettany: “Let’s burn Amber.

“Let’s drown her before we burn her. I will f*** her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.”

Much of the evidence heard so far at the trial has made reference to his use of substances while the two were together, which Heard’s lawyers argued had triggered violent episodes.

Depp previously testified that Heard’s behaviour had “inspired” him to use substances and said she had not been “supportive” of his attempts at sobriety.

In a later conversation with Bettany, also shown to the court, the actor said he had drunk “all night” before picking up Heard to fly to Los Angeles.

“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,” the message read.

Johnny Depp testifies during his defamation trial (Photo: JIM WATSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Before showing the video, audio and text messages, Heard’s lawyer Benjamin Rottenborn asked Depp if he lived up to the standards of a “southern gentleman”.

“When you have deep, deep roots in the south… you’re raised to be a southern gentleman, that is to say when chivalry was still alive and allowed,” Depp responded.

“I believe I do [live up to the standards], I have certainly done my best all my life.”

He later admitted that he had experienced times where he had “strayed” from such standards and said that it was a “normal, primal” thing to have done.

On Wednesday (20 April), Rottenborn reminded Depp that the lawsuit was not being brought over anything the actress herself had done prior to writing the article.

What did Johnny Depp say when he concluded his testimony?

Depp concluded his testimony during the US defamation lawsuit brought against Amber Heard by saying that he had been the victim of domestic abuse.

Depp has denied all allegations and says he is “ashamed” by the evidence shown to the court, which included video of him smashing objects in a kitchen and abusive text messages shared with his friend, actor Paul Bettany.

Incidents including a trip to Australia in March 2015, during which Depp severed the top of his finger, and another time when he claims Heard threw a can of mineral spirits at his head, have also been examined.

Johnny Depp waits for the jury to come into the courtroom after a break at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse (Photo by STEVE HELBER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

In other audio clips, Depp is heard telling the actress to “shut up, fatass”.

In her final question to Depp on Monday, his lawyer Camille Vasquez asked: “What did you say in response when Ms Heard said ‘tell the world Johnny, tell them I Johnny Depp, a man, am a victim too of domestic violence?’”

“I said yes, I am,” Depp replied.

He also told the court that after reading the Washington Post article for the first time he felt like he had been “hit over the head with a two-by-four (piece of wood)”.

What was the pre-trial ruling about?

The trial began on 11 April at the Fairfax County courthouse in Virginia - however, less than a month before the long-delayed trial started, Virginia Judge Penny Azcarate ruled that Heard can use the state’s anti-SLAPP statute in the matter.

The judge ruled that she can argue to a jury that she should be protected from a libel lawsuit over her Washington Post op-ed because the article she wrote on domestic violence deals with a matter of public interest.

Spectators showing support for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard outside of Fairfax County Circuit Court on April 11, 2022 in Fairfax, Virginia. Depp is seeking $50 million in alleged damages to his career over an op-ed Heard wrote in the Washington Post in 2018. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

While the ruling doesn’t grant Heard immunity for what she wrote in the piece, it means that her lawyers can argue to a jury that she deserves said immunity.

The reason that Depp sued Heard in Virginia was due to the state’s anti-SLAPP law. He was allowed to sue in Virginia because the publishing of the Washington Post’s online editions go through servers situated in Fairfax County.

His team has argued that the circumstances around the defamation suit are private and therefore shouldn’t be covered by the anti-SLAPP law.

What is SLAPP?

SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participations”. The Public Participation Project describes these lawsuits as “damaging” because they “chill free speech and healthy debate by targeting those who communicate with their government or speak out on issues of public interest”.

The PPP says: “SLAPPs are used to silence and harass critics by forcing them to spend money to defend these baseless suits. SLAPP filers don’t go to court to seek justice. Rather, SLAPPs are intended to intimidate those who disagree with them or their activities by draining the target’s financial resources.”

Spectators showing support for Johnny Depp And Amber Heard outside of Fairfax County Circuit Court on April 11, 2022 in Fairfax, Virginia. Depp is seeking $50 million in alleged damages to his career over an op-ed Heard wrote in the Washington Post in 2018. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

Due to the fact that many SLAPP suits have become an “all-too-common tool for intimidating and silencing criticism through expensive, baseless legal proceedings”, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), anti-SLAPP laws are meant to remedy SLAPP suits.

RCFP says: “Anti-SLAPP laws are intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights.”