The defamation trial in Virginia between the actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard has become a fierce battleground over the truth about their relationship, with both sides accusing the other of repeated domestic abuse in what was an unquestionably tumultuous marriage.
Before a seven-person jury in Fairfax County Circuit Court, lawyers have questioned witnesses about the events of what has been described as a whirlwind romance that started on a movie set and soured into a barrage of fights and physical confrontations — the details of which vary widely depending on the account.
Mr. Depp, 58, sued Ms. Heard, 35, for defamation after she wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post referring to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” After more than a year of legal sparring, Ms. Heard then countersued Mr. Depp, alleging that he defamed her when his former lawyer released statements saying her allegations of abuse were a hoax.
Many of the allegations being aired in the courtroom have already been heard in a British case — which Mr. Depp lost — in which the actor sued The Sun newspaper for printing a headline that called him a “wife beater.”
The trial, which started with opening arguments on April 12, is expected to last about six weeks.
Why is Mr. Depp suing Ms. Heard?
Mr. Depp’s lawsuit, filed in 2019, revolves around the 2018 op-ed written by Ms. Heard titled, “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”
The op-ed does not mention Mr. Depp by name, but in it, Ms. Heard wrote that two years before the article’s publication, she became a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
In 2016, Ms. Heard was granted a temporary restraining order after showing up to a California court with a bruised face, writing in an application for the order that Mr. Depp had thrown a phone at her face at close range. (The actor denies this.)
In the application, Ms. Heard wrote that Mr. Depp had been verbally and physically abusive to her throughout their relationship, detailing a recent incident in which she said he grabbed her by the hair and violently shoved her to the ground. (Mr. Depp wrote in court papers that this was a lie and that she was the one who punched him in the face that night.)
Mr. Depp’s lawsuit asserted that Ms. Heard’s abuse allegations were an “elaborate hoax” that cost the actor his career and reputation.
“Mr. Depp brings this defamation action to clear his name,” the actor’s lawsuit said.
What did Ms. Heard’s op-ed in The Washington Post say?
The op-ed says that after she became a “public figure representing domestic abuse,” she started to experience a backlash to her career.
“Friends and advisers told me I would never again work as an actress — that I would be blacklisted,” she wrote. “A movie I was attached to recast my role. I had just shot a two-year campaign as the face of a global fashion brand, and the company dropped me.”
She wrote that she saw “in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.” Ms. Heard was identified in the op-ed as an ambassador on women’s rights for the American Civil Liberties Union, and in court papers, Ms. Heard said the A.C.L.U. suggested that she write the article and submitted it.
Although the trial has become a sprawling inquiry into the couple’s marriage, one of Ms. Heard’s lawyers, Ben Rottenborn, tried to impress upon the jury in open arguments the idea that, ultimately, the case rests on “one piece of paper” — this op-ed.
Why is Ms. Heard suing Mr. Depp?
The jury is simultaneously considering Ms. Heard’s countersuit against Mr. Depp, which was filed in 2020.
Ms. Heard’s defamation claim is against Mr. Depp, but the statements it centers on came from his former lawyer, Adam Waldman, who told the British tabloid The Daily Mail that the actress’s allegations were an “abuse hoax.”
Her lawsuit claims Mr. Depp has “authorized and conspired” with Mr. Waldman, who was acting on the actor’s behalf, to “attempt to destroy and defame Ms. Heard in the press.” (Mr. Waldman was not named as a defendant.)
What has Mr. Depp said in his testimony?
So far, Mr. Depp has testified that he had never struck Ms. Heard, nor any other woman. Instead, he asserted that Ms. Heard was the aggressor in the relationship, engaging in angry tirades and “demeaning name-calling” that would often escalate into physical violence.
Johnny Depp’s Libel Case Against Amber Heard
In the courtroom. A defamation trial involving the formerly married actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard is currently underway in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia. Here is what to know about the case:
“It could begin with a slap, it could begin with a shove, it could begin with throwing a TV remote at my head, throwing a glass of wine in my face,” Mr. Depp said.
The actor gave his account of several confrontations at the center of the case, including an incident in 2015 when the couple was in Australia for the filming of the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. Mr. Depp testified that Ms. Heard was angry about a meeting she had with a lawyer about a potential postnuptial agreement and threw a handle of vodka, which shattered onto his hand, seriously injuring his middle finger.
“The tip of my finger had been severed and I was looking directly at my bone sticking out,” he testified.
At the start of the cross-examination of Mr. Depp on Thursday, Mr. Rottenborn confronted him with text messages he sent to others in which he called Ms. Heard obscenities, including calling her a “worthless hooker.”
Who else will testify?
Most notably, Ms. Heard. Based on one of her lawyers’ opening arguments, she is likely to give a very different account of the relationship, including what happened in Australia.
The lawyer, Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, told the jury that Mr. Depp ripped off Ms. Heard’s nightgown and sexually assaulted her, and Ms. Heard has said in court papers that Mr. Depp injured his fingers while smashing a phone “into smithereens” as he hit her. (Mr. Depp testified that he never sexually assaulted Ms. Heard.)
Ms. Heard’s lawyers have released an extensive potential witness list, which includes Elon Musk and James Franco. (Ms. Heard exchanged texts with Mr. Musk about her marriage that were used as evidence in the British case, and she said in that trial that Mr. Franco saw bruises on her face after an altercation that is in dispute.)
Other potential witnesses include Mr. Waldman; Anthony Romero, the executive director of the A.C.L.U; and friends of Ms. Heard’s who were present for key incidents in the case.
Mr. Depp’s lawyers have already brought forward several witnesses, including a sister who has acted as a personal manager, Christi Dembrowski; a physician, David Kipper, who said he treated the actor for opioid addiction; and the couple’s marriage counselor, Laurel Anderson, who said she saw “mutual abuse” in the relationship.
What happened in the British case?
A judge found in 2020 that there was “overwhelming evidence” that Mr. Depp had assaulted Ms. Heard repeatedly during their marriage and that he had put her “in fear of her life.”
There appear to have been some restrictions placed on reference to the British trial in Virginia, but those have not been disclosed to the public. Ms. Heard’s lawyers have been allowed to reference Mr. Depp’s testimony in the case.