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Depp-Heard trial returns to the much-discussed severed finger

Defense testimony continues as the defamation trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard enters its sixth week.

Amber Heard listens in a courtroom Monday at the Fairfax County Courthouse. (Steve Helber/Pool/AFP)
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As the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation trial entered its sixth week in Fairfax County, the jury was greeted Monday morning by gruesome photos of Depp’s bloody, severed finger during testimony from an orthopedic surgeon who disputed Depp’s version of events that led to his much-discussed injury.

Depp, 58, is suing his ex-wife Amber Heard, 36, for $50 million for defamation after a 2018 Washington Post op-ed in which she referred to herself as a public figure representing domestic abuse, two years after she filed for a divorce and a restraining order. Depp, who has denied all allegations of abuse, said the op-ed (which did not name him) ruined his reputation and career. Heard countersued the actor for $100 million for defamation after his lawyer told the media that her claims were a hoax.

Depp has alleged that Heard abused him, and during his testimony last month, said that when he was filming the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie in Australia in March 2015, he and Heard got in an argument and she threw a bottle of vodka at him in a way that severed the tip of his middle finger on his right hand. Heard denied this, and testified that on the same night, Depp sexually assaulted her with a liquor bottle, and at some point between then and the next day, his finger was injured.

Richard Moore, a North Carolina-based orthopedic surgeon who was called to the witness stand by the defense, told the jury that he did not believe Depp’s finger was injured from a vodka bottle being thrown at him. Moore, who added that he reviewed a “tremendous” amount of material including medical records, photos and depositions from Depp and his doctor, said he arrived at that opinion because “The medical data is inconclusive — it’s not consistent with what we see in the described injury pattern or in the clinical photographs.”

In other words, Moore testified, if Depp’s hand was flat on a bar and the bottle crushed his finger from the top, he would have anticipated an injury to the fingernail and other parts of the finger. However, Moore said, the fingernail and nail bed appeared to be intact. (Jurors saw photos to support this.)

As a result, Moore said, Depp’s description of what happened did not line up with the evidence Moore reviewed — and he did not see any glass shards or other lacerations or injuries on his hand. Using an X-ray of the finger shown to jurors, Moore said that type of injury usually happens when a finger is squeezed between two hard, opposing surfaces.

On cross-examination, Depp’s lawyer Camille Vasquez argued that Depp had actually described his hand resting on the edge of the bar, slightly curled over the edge — Moore said even if he had misstated that, it would not substantially change his opinion about the mechanics of the injury. He also agreed that he did not have personal knowledge of what happened, given his impression is based on the description and available medical records.

After some back and forth, Moore said he could not “rule out” that the injury was caused with a vodka bottle, but based on the evidence, he did not believe the injury happened in the manner Depp described.

Later, the defense called David Spiegel, a Virginia psychiatrist who specializes in drug and alcohol abuse and intimate partner violence known as “IPV.” (Depp’s lawyers objected to him being called an expert in the latter.) Spiegel spent a lot of time telling the jury about how alcohol and drug use affects the brain and memory — Depp’s substance use has been a major talking point of the trial — and said that based on his review of the evidence, Depp had behaviors that were consistent with substance-use disorder and intimate partner violence.

“We also know that alcohol and cocaine use independently increase significantly the risk of intimate partner violence,” Spiegel testified. “You are quote-unquote, colloquially, ‘playing with fire’” when talking about substances and IPV.

Depp attorney Wayne Dennison cross-examined Spiegel and took particular issue with the fact that Spiegel had never directly evaluated Depp, but Spiegel said that if experts were allowed to testify only about subjects they had personally evaluated, the whole legal system would be “null and void.” Dennison asked Spiegel if someone could have every risk factor of intimate partner violence and never commit intimate partner violence; Spiegel replied that the probability was that the person would, but he could not definitively say that everyone with every risk factor would commit intimate partner violence.

The defense’s last witness Monday was Kathryn Arnold, an entertainment consultant who testified to damages to their careers that both Depp and Heard have claimed against one another.

She started with Depp and said that she analyzed whether The Post op-ed negatively affected the actor’s career. Arnold testified that it did not have an impact, given that his behavior on and off film sets started to interfere “with what everybody saw as his great talent.”

Arnold pointed to another issue raised by Depp’s legal team: a Hollywood Reporter article published on Dec. 20, 2018 — two days after the op-ed — in which Disney executive Sean Bailey confirmed that Depp would not be moving forward as Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Arnold said that although it ran online that day, it had actually published in print two days prior, the same day as the op-ed — so there’s “no way” that Heard’s op-ed had an impact on what the Hollywood Reporter journalist wrote, she said.

She reiterated that Depp brought additional damage to his career with his libel lawsuit against the British tabloid the Sun (which he lost in 2020), which put his vulgar text messages and allegations of his behavior, among other things, in the spotlight. “In actuality, he’s causing his own demise by bringing these lawsuits forward and continuing to kind of ignite the fire of negative publicity around both of them,” she said.

Cross-examination also dealt mostly with Arnold’s testimony that statements to the media by Depp attorney Adam Waldman — calling her abuse allegations a hoax — damaged the actress’s reputation and career to the point of ruin, and cost her around $45 million to $50 million in lost opportunities.

Dennison ridiculed this idea, especially the actors that Arnold called “comparable” to Heard’s potential career track before the Waldman statements, including Jason Momoa (Heard’s “Aquaman” co-star), Gal Gadot, Ana de Armas and Zendaya — an actress so famous, Dennison pointed out, that she goes by one name. Arnold said she was trying to find comparison to actors who also were in superhero and action movies, and they were merely comparable, not identical.

Depp’s lawyer also made the point that Heard booked only one acting role post-“Aquaman” in 2018, which Arnold called her breakout moment, until Waldman’s statements in 2020. Arnold agreed that was true, but the role was on the TV show “The Stand,” which was a big deal because it was based on a Stephen King novel.