The verdict is in: Johnny Depp won the defamation lawsuit he filed accusing ex Amber Heard of defaming the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star in a 2018 op-ed, with a Virginia jury awarding him more than $10 million in damages and vindicating his stance that Heard fabricated claims that she was abused by Depp before and during their brief marriage.
The jury found Depp should receive $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, but the judge said state law caps punitive damages at $350,000, meaning Depp was awarded $10.35 million.
Heard also partially won her countersuit over comments made by Depp’s former lawyer Adam Waldman when he called her abuse allegations a hoax. The jury awarded her $2 million in damages.
The jury came to the unanimous verdict Wednesday following 13 hours of deliberations.
Depp said he was “truly humbled” that the “jury gave me my life back” in a statement to USA TODAY on Wednesday.
“My decision to pursue this case, knowing very well the height of the legal hurdles that I would be facing and the inevitable, worldwide spectacle into my life, was only made after considerable thought,” Depp’s statement read. “From the very beginning, the goal of bringing this case was to reveal the truth, regardless of the outcome. Speaking the truth was something that I owed to my children and to all those who have remained steadfast in their support of me. I feel at peace knowing I have finally accomplished that.”
Heard was present in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
“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,” Heard said in a statement to USA TODAY.
“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback,” Heard continued. “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.”
Heard said she believes Depp’s “attorneys succeeded in getting the jury to overlook the key issue of Freedom of Speech and ignore evidence that was so conclusive that we won in the UK.”
“I’m sad I lost this case. But I am sadder still that I seem to have lost a right I thought I had as an American – to speak freely and openly,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Heard, Alafair Hall, confirmed to USA TODAY the actress plans to appeal the decision.
Jeff Lewis, a Los Angeles-based defamation lawyer, told USA TODAY in a statement Wednesday he predicts “both parties will likely appeal” and they “have the right to have an appeal heard.”
Depp’s lawyer Camille Vasquez told reporters and a sea of cheering Depp supporters outside the courthouse that the verdict “confirms what we have said from the beginning: that the claims against Johnny Depp are defamatory and unsupported by any evidence.”
Depp was not in attendance due to previously scheduled work commitments and watched from the U.K. The actor has been performing with Jeff Beck at the artist’s concerts overseas for the past few days, according to social media reports.
Closing arguments were made by Depp and Heard on Friday after six weeks of testimony. The seven-person civil jury then began deliberations, with a break for Memorial Day.
What the jury decided on was very different from the public debate that has engulfed the high-profile proceedings.
Testimony focused on details of alleged abuse that Heard says she suffered at the hands of Depp. Heard has outlined more than a dozen specific instances where she says she was assaulted by Depp.
Depp has denied any physical or sexual abuse, and says Heard concocted the claims to destroy Depp’s reputation. Depp’s legions of online fans have focused on their belief that Heard has been untruthful.
But the case itself was a defamation claim.
Johnny Depp, Amber Heard’s libel case is now in jurors’ hands. Read the closing arguments
The trial is in jury deliberations:Your lawsuit FAQs, answered
Depp, 58, sued Heard, 36, for $50 million, alleging she defamed him in an opinion column she published in The Washington Post in December 2018. In the column, she claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse.
That article never mentions Depp by name, but his lawyers said – and the jury agreed – he was defamed nonetheless. Most of the article discusses public policy as it relates to domestic violence, and Heard’s lawyers said she has a First Amendment right to weigh in.
Depp’s lawyers pointed to two passages in the article that they said clearly referred to Depp.
In the first passage, Heard wrote that “two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath.” Depp’s lawyers called it a clear reference to Depp, given that Heard publicly accused Depp of domestic violence in 2016 – two years before she wrote the article.
In a second passage, she stated, “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.” (Depp’s lawyers also sought damages over a headline that appeared above the online version of the article, which Heard didn’t write but tweeted along with the article.)
Heard filed a $100 million countersuit for defamation against Depp over statements Depp’s lawyer made about her, calling her allegations a hoax.
Everything that’s happened so far in the Johnny Depp, Amber Heard libel trial
Amber Heard’s tearful testimony:Actress says she’s been ‘humiliated,’ received ‘death threats’ amid Johnny Depp trial
The jury, which had to come to a unanimous decision for a verdict, decided whether the passages in the Post were defamatory.
Instructions given to the jury included three multipart questions that prove defamation such as determining whether the article was about Depp and if Heard acted with actual malice.
Joshua Ritter, a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, told USA TODAY in a statement: “In spite of our best efforts, the judicial system gets skewed in cases involving celebrities and this much public attention.”
Heard’s lawyers said they presented a mountain of evidence that Heard was abused. But they said that even if the jury were somehow to believe that she was never abused even a single time, she should still prevail in the lawsuit.
That’s because libel law spells out several factors that must be considered. First, the alleged defamatory statements have to be about the plaintiff. Heard’s lawyers said the article is not about Depp at all. He’s not mentioned, and they said the focus is on Heard’s experience about the aftermath of speaking out. Those statements remain objectively true even if she wasn’t in fact abused, her lawyers contended.
Depp’s lawyers, though, argued that free-speech rights have limits.
“The First Amendment doesn’t protect lies that hurt and defame people,” Depp’s lawyer Vasquez said in closing statements.
In addition to Depp’s claim, the jury also decided on Heard’s counterclaim, which her lawyers told jurors was filed as an avenue for the jury to compensate Heard for the abuse Depp inflicted on her by orchestrating a smear campaign after they split up.
“Jurors know when they show up to a courtroom with a line of people around the block to get in, they know there’s extra attention and they behave differently,” Ritter said.
Ritter added that in high-profile cases like this, jurors may think “they’re taking part in a cultural moment rather than deciding a case based on the law.”
“Also, a high-profile case tends to last longer than the average trial, with lawyers and even the judge performing for the camera to a certain extent,” Ritter said. “When that happens, jurors have often formed an opinion before they walk into the jury room to deliberate … because it’s just human nature to come to conclusions when you’re living through a trial for so long.”
The jury verdict form asked the jury to decide if Depp’s former attorney, acting as an agent for Depp, made or published three statements that were about Heard, were false and were seen by someone other than Heard. The jury also had to decide if Depp’s attorney made the statements with actual malice.
Lewis also said Wednesday to USA TODAY that he expects Depp to appeal the “odd” verdict form and how it used the “passive voice” to question the jury in regards to the statements about Heard by Depp’s former lawyer.
“Was it Johnny or his attorney or both who bore malice towards Heard?” said Lewis. “The verdict form is flawed. I would expect Heard to file an appeal and question the rulings on evidentiary objections … Heard might also argue that the verdicts are inconsistent: No rational jury could find in favor of both Heard and Depp.”
Related:Verdict in Johnny Depp, Amber Heard’s libel trial stalled, jury to return Wednesday
Since the trial began April 11 in Fairfax, Virginia, Depp and Heard shared testimony about their relationship from their wedding, fights over a postnuptial agreement, text messages alluding to violence, abuse of drugs and alcohol and more discourse between the pair who wed in 2015 and divorced in 2016.
Heard’s attorney J. Benjamin Rottenborn zeroed in on text messages between Depp and Heard, as well as family members and friends to point out patterns of drug and alcohol use and how the substances affected Depp’s relationship with Heard.
Rottenborn claimed evidence would show Depp physically and sexually assaulted Heard on multiple occasions.
The attorney also stated the 2018 article did nothing to damage Depp’s reputation. He noted that the abuse accusations had been public for two years already, and he said Depp’s spiraling career was the result of his drinking and drug-using, which made him an unreliable commodity to Hollywood studios.
Explosive fights:Johnny Depp details Amber Heard throwing ‘TV remote at my head,’ ‘glass of wine’
Depp and his legal team argued that he “never struck Ms. Heard in any way.”
During his testimony, Depp said he took the stand to prove Heard’s claims have “no truth to it whatsoever,” and because he feels a responsibility to “stand up for my children,” referring to daughter Lily-Rose, 22, and son Jack, 20. The actor shares his two children with ex-girlfriend Vanessa Paradis.
Depp argued that his ex-wife was the abusive party and said he would often have to “get away so that nothing escalated.”
“Ms. Heard would take it to the very extreme, which ended up with my finger being chopped off,” he said, referencing a fight in 2015 when his ex-wife allegedly severed the tip of his left middle finger after throwing a vodka bottle at him.
Heard’s attorney’s claimed his severed fingertip was self-inflicted.
In addition to the former pair’s testimony, Kate Moss, Ellen Barkin, Depp’s sister Christi Dembrowski, Heard’s sister Whitney Heard Henriquez, physicians, psychologists, assistants and more friends took the stand to discuss the couple’s relationship.
‘I am an insane person’:Lawyers question Johnny Depp’s texts about drugs, threats to Amber Heard
Contributing: Hannah Yasharoff, Maria Puente, Amy Haneline, Naledi Ushe, USA TODAY; Matthew Barakat, The Associated Press
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