By DENISE LAVOIE AP Legal Affairs Writer
A jury on Wednesday awarded Johnny Depp more than $10 million in his libel lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard, vindicating his stance that Heard fabricated claims that she was abused by Depp before and during their brief marriage.
The jury also found in favor of Heard, who said she was defamed by Depp’s lawyer when he called her abuse allegations a hoax. The jury awarded her $2 million in damages.
The verdicts bring an end to a televised trial that Depp had hoped would help restore his reputation, though it turned into a spectacle of a vicious marriage. Throughout the trial, fans — overwhelmingly on Depp’s side — lined up overnight for coveted courtroom seats. Spectators who couldn’t get in gathered on the street to cheer Depp and jeer Heard whenever they appeared outside.
Heard said she was heartbroken by the verdict.
“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It’s a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously,” she said in a statement posted on her Twitter account.
Depp sued Heard for libel in Fairfax County Circuit Court over a December 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post describing herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” His lawyers said he was defamed by the article even though it never mentioned his name.
While the case was ostensibly about libel, most of the testimony focused on whether Heard had been physically and sexually abused, as she claimed. Heard enumerated more than a dozen alleged assaults, including a fight in Australia — where Depp was shooting a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel — in which Depp lost the tip of his middle finger and Heard said she was sexually assaulted with a liquor bottle.
Depp said he never hit Heard and that she was the abuser, though Heard’s attorneys highlighted years-old text messages Depp sent apologizing to Heard for his behavior as well as profane texts he sent to a friend in which Depp said he wanted to kill Heard and defile her dead body.
In some ways, the trial was a replay of a lawsuit Depp filed in the United Kingdom against a British tabloid after he was described as a “wife beater.” The judge in that case ruled in the newspaper’s favor after finding that Heard was telling the truth in her descriptions of abuse.
In the Virginia case, Depp had to prove not only that he never assaulted Heard, but that Heard’s article — which focused primarily on public policy related to domestic violence — defamed him. He also had to prove that Heard wrote the article with actual malice. And to claim damages he had to prove that her article caused the damage to his reputation as opposed to any number of articles before and after Heard’s piece that detailed the allegations against him.