A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury heard closing arguments in the contentious trial between film stars and former spouses Johnny Depp and Amber Heard on Friday, but after a couple hours of deliberation decided to resume their work after the holiday weekend.
For Depp’s claim, the jury is weighing seven questions, including whether Heard made or published three separate statements in the op-ed, including the headline; if they imply or insinuate anything about Depp; and if so, whether they were false and/or made with actual malice. Under Heard’s counterclaim, the jury has to decide six questions, including whether Waldman, while acting as an agent to Depp, made the statements, and if they were false and/or made with actual malice.
The seven-person jury, which will resume deliberations Tuesday morning, will weigh whether both are entitled to damages, and if so, what amount. They began deliberating at about 3 p.m.
Depp’s team has attempted to paint Heard as vindictive and abusive, and the attorneys argued that she purposely destroyed his career by accusing him of abuse. Depp lawyer Camille Vasquez said the “Pirates of the Caribbean” actor sought a divorce in May 2016, after one year of marriage, which enraged Heard. “She didn’t just want a divorce. She wanted to ruin him,” Vasquez said during closing arguments.
Defense attorneys maintain that Depp consistently abused Heard but that it doesn’t actually matter in this trial, pointing to free speech protected under the First Amendment and that the op-ed doesn’t actually describe any of the alleged abusive acts to which Heard has testified. Instead, said Heard lawyer Ben Rottenborn, it focused on her “experiences after Johnny Depp.”
“We’re not running from the fact that when she discussed becoming a public victim representing domestic abuse, Amber was speaking of her experience reporting domestic abuse against Johnny Depp,” Rottenborn said. “But that doesn’t make the article, or the statements, about Johnny Depp.”
Before closing arguments began, Judge Penney Azcarate announced that the names of the jurors will be sealed for a year, given the high-profile nature of the case. The trial, which began on April 12, has garnered massive attention and coverage, even with raging war in Ukraine, the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade and multiple mass shootings.
Depp’s fandom has turned out overwhelmingly for the trial, sleeping on the sidewalks overnight to get a spectator wristband to get in the courtroom. Hundreds gathered behind courthouse by 8:30 a.m. Friday, eagerly waiting for Depp to arrive on what might be his last day in court. “When y’all hear the motorcycles, it’s time,” one person advised a group. Some dressed in pirate costumes, and one couple brought a pair of collies named Donald and Danny, dressed up in ties as “Depp legal team.”
In a courtroom filled to capacity, both sides made emotional pleas to jurors. Vasquez asked for the jury to give Depp “his life back … what is at stake in this trial is a man’s good name”; while Rottenborn called Depp’s lawsuit “victim-blaming at its most disgusting.”
“Think about the message that Mr. Depp and his attorneys are sending to Amber, and by extension, every victim of domestic abuse everywhere: If you didn’t take pictures, it didn’t happen. If you did take pictures, they’re fake. If you didn’t tell your friends, you’re lying. If you did tell your friends, they’re part of the hoax,” Rottenborn added.
Vasquez told the jury that Heard fabricated her claims and her testimony has been nothing more than “a performance, the role of a lifetime.” She repeated a question Depp’s team has made throughout the trial: Why aren’t there medical records or photographs detailing Heard’s alleged injuries, and why didn’t anyone see Depp abuse her?
“As an actress, she was photographed all the time. Where are the pictures of the horrific injuries Heard describes?” asked Vasquez, who also again questioned why, if Heard was so afraid that Depp would get drunk and high and beat her, she once gave him an knife engraved with “till death” as a gift.
“This is MeToo without any MeToo,” Depp attorney Benjamin Chew later said.
Rottenborn, pointing to Depp’s heavy drinking and drug use, questioned how the actor could even fairly account for what happened. He reminded a jury of multiple allegations of abuse including those at Hicksville, a Southern California luxury trailer park where Depp allegedly performed a forceful cavity search on Heard before trashing a trailer; on a flight to Moscow, during which Heard said he hit her and threatened to break the flight attendant’s wrist; and in Australia in which she said he sexually assaulted her with a liquor bottle.
Both sides also addressed Depp’s infamous severed finger, which also occurred during that 2015 fight in Australia. Depp claims Heard injured him by throwing a vodka bottle at him; the defense suggests he injured himself. Rottenborn said it doesn’t matter: “Amber could have chopped it off with an ax, and it has nothing to do with whether or not Mr. Depp abused her.”
The closing arguments represented a strange dichotomy that has existed throughout the trial, in which Heard and Depp and their witnesses seem to recount the same events in completely different lights. Jamie R. Abrams, a law professor with the University of Louisville, said the “mirrored defamation claims filed by both sides against each other” makes these closing arguments unique.
“Ordinarily, closing statements present the key strengths of the client’s case and emphasize the weaknesses of the opponent’s case to show the other side hasn’t met its burden,” Abrams said via email. “Here, both cases have similar weaknesses, which seems to be distorting some of the focus in the closing arguments that you might ordinarily see in trial work.”
The two actors originally met around 2008 or 2009 when Depp cast Heard in “The Rum Diary,” based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson. Heard’s part was described as the “dream woman.” They had a flirtation on set but were both in other relationships at the time (Depp with the mother of his two children, Vanessa Paradis; Heard with her wife, Tasya van Ree). When they reconnected during the film’s press tour more than two years later, they were both single.
The two began a whirlwind romance as they promoted the film, and Depp said he thought of her as the “perfect partner.” But about a year in, as many people testified, things started to fall apart and the two started fighting all the time. They got married in February 2015, but in May 2016, Heard filed for divorce and a restraining order.
Heard moved to Los Angeles as a teenager in the early 2000s to seek acting work, earning small parts in feature films such as “Pineapple Express,” “Zombieland” and “Friday Night Lights.”
Her break came in 2017, when she was cast in the superhero film “Justice League” as underwater princess Mera. It led to a co-starring role as the same character, now the titular character’s love interest, in the following year’s “Aquaman,” a movie that grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. She’ll again appear as Mera in next year’s “Aquaman and the Last Kingdom,” though that she testified her role has been reduced, and said she believed it was because of the negative publicity surrounding Depp’s lawsuit — particularly by the statements made by Waldman, Depp’s attorney, calling her allegations an “abuse hoax.”
Depp, meanwhile, became a teen idol in the late 1980s after being cast in the Fox TV series “21 Jump Street,” which followed the adventures of young undercover police officers. He earned a reputation for playing eccentric characters, often in Tim Burton films, such as the titular “Edward Scissorhands” and Willy Wonka in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” but achieved global fame as Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney’s billion-dollar Pirates of the Caribbean franchise in 2003, which earned him his first of three Academy Award nominations for best actor.
During the past decade, however, he’s suffered a string of panned films and box-office flops, including “Mortdecai” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” The defense argues that his heavy drug and alcohol use caused his career decline, but Depp blames Heard’s abuse allegations.
Mitra Ahouraian, a Beverly Hills-based lawyer focused on the entertainment business, said the jurors are “probably sick of this going on for so long.” She referenced Rottenborn stressing that the jury does not need to believe that Depp was abusive, only that he failed during the trial to prove he never abused her even once. “Hearing that as a jury member is probably a big relief. It just makes it really a lot simpler than, ‘Okay, who abused more?’” she said.
Helena Andrews-Dyer, Sonia Rao and Paul Schwartzman contributed to this report