FAIRFAX, Va. — On Wednesday, the jury sided with Johnny Depp in a defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard awarding him a total of $15 million. The win for Depp vindicates disturbing allegations of Heard’s lies about Depp abusing her multiple times over the period of their relationship including during their short one year marriage.
Depp was awarded $10 million for compensatory damages and $5 million for punitive damages. Judge Penney Azcarate reduced the punitive damage amount to $350,000 which is the limitation in the state of Virginia.
The jury was never advised of the punitive damages limitation. Chapter 21.1 of the Code of Virginia states that “the total amount awarded for punitive damages against all defendants found to be liable shall be determined by the trier of fact. In no event shall the total amount awarded for punitive damages exceed $350,000. The jury shall not be advised of the limitation prescribed by this section. However, if a jury returns a verdict for punitive damages in excess of the maximum amount specified in this section, the judge shall reduce the award and enter judgment for such damages in the maximum amount provided by this section.”
Heard was awarded $2 million after the jury found that she was defamed by one of Depp’s lawyers, who accused her of creating a detailed hoax that included roughing up the couple’s apartment to look worse for police.
However, Depp will walk away with $8.35 million after he pays out Heard’s $2 million win. The Pirates of the Caribbean actor said “the jury gave me my life back. I am truly humbled.”
“I hope that my quest to have the truth be told will have helped others, men or women, who have found themselves in my situation, and that those supporting them never give up,” he said in a statement posted to his Instagram page.
Heard, who held her head down in the courtroom as the verdict was read, said she was heartbroken.
“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.
The verdicts bring an end to a televised trial that Depp had hoped would help clear his name and restore his reputation. The trial became like a hot soap opera that offered a window into a brutal marriage.
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.
The jury found in Depp’s favor on all three of his claims relating to specific statements in the 2018 piece.
Throughout the proceedings, fans who were 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.
A crowd of about 200 people cheered when Depp’s lawyers came out after the verdict. “Johnny for president!” one man yelled repeatedly.
In evaluating Heard’s counterclaims, jurors considered three statements by a lawyer for Depp who called her allegations a hoax. They found she was defamed by one of them, in which the lawyer claimed that she and friends “spilled a little wine and roughed the place up, got their stories straight,” and called police.
While the case was ostensibly about libel, most of the testimony focused on whether Heard had been physically and sexually abused, as she claimed.
Depp said he never hit Heard and that she was the abuser, though Heard’s attorneys highlighted yearsold 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.
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.
The case captivated millions through its gavel-to-gavel television coverage, including impassioned followers on social media who dissected everything from the actors’ mannerisms to the possible symbolism of what they were wearing. Both performers emerge from the trial with reputations in tatters with unclear prospects for their careers.
Depp, a three-time best actor Oscar nominee, had until recent years been a bankable star. His turn as Sparrow helped turn the “Pirates of the Caribbean” into a global franchise, but he’s lost that role. He was also replaced in the third “Fantastic Beasts” spin-off film, “The Secrets of Dumbledore.”
Despite testimony at the trial that he could be violent, abusive and out of control, Depp received a standing ovation Tuesday night in London after performing for about 40 minutes with Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall.
Heard’s acting career has been more modest, and her only two upcoming roles are in a small film and the upcoming “Aquaman” sequel due out next year.
Depp’s lawyers fought to keep the case in Virginia, in part because state law provided some legal advantages compared with California, where the two reside. A judge ruled that Virginia was an acceptable forum for the case because The Washington Post’s printing presses and online servers are in the county.
Contribution: AP News