25 May 2022

All about the trial of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

For the past few weeks, this topic has been trending on all social media platforms, involving the well-known Hollywood actor Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard. Recalling previous legal issues of the actor, Heard had turn the public opinion against him, resulting into many production companies and firms turning the back to Depp. However, the current trial is so far demonstrating the opposite, as we are about to see.


John C. Depp II v. Amber Laura Heard, abbreviated as Depp v. Heard, is the ongoing defamation trial taking place in the Circuit Court of Fairfax County Virginia, in which Depp is claiming $50 million in damages from Heard, while she counterclaims $100 million. The case began on April 11, 2022 and is already on the fifth week of witness testimonies and expecting to end on May 27.


The defamation lawsuit itself is over an op-ed (opposite the editorial page) that Heard wrote for The Washington Post three years ago, about being a survivor of domestic abuse and which caused him huge damages on his professional career, losing movie roles and his public reputation. He alleges that he is not a domestic abuser and she just made up the hoax to gain publicity and advance her career. 


On the other hand, to understand Heard’s allegation it is necessary to consider the background of their relationship. They started dating in 2012, married in 2015 and divorced on 2016, with a temporary restraining order against Depp. The two stated that their "relationship was intensely passionate and periodically volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm”. And then Depp paid her $7 million that in theory were to be donated to charity, though later it was found not. 


She alleged that Depp abused drug and alcohol, became a monster, and behaved violently against her, then defamed her and ruin her with accusations of hoax.

“I spoke up against sexual violence and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change […] two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out. … I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse”. These were her words on the op-ed, even though not mentioning Depp explicitly.


Another relevant thing to bear in mind is a previous legal issue that Depp had in 2018 with Britain News Group Newspapers, publisher of the Sun and executive editor Dan Wootton. It was a libel case in which the headline “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”, got Depp to lose after Heard testified 14 assaults and the judge found enough evidence from 12 of them, getting him removed from the Warner Bros production of Fantastic Beasts


The fact that the trial is taking place in Virginia is not by chance, actually this state has anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law, which concedes defendants immunity from when they speak out about matters of public interest that are protected under free speech. Lawyers on Depp’s side had this idea, while Heard’s suggested Los Angeles, trying to turn the matter private. A judge ruled that domestic violence can be considered of public interest, in favor of Heard’s immunity.


The testimonies of the first four weeks were for Depp, amounting to more than 20 witnesses such as his sister Christi Dembrowski who testified that Depp had sworn to never commit domestic violence after having suffered so as a child, as well as that Heard was the violent one and started the fights. Their common therapist Laurel Anderson testified that abuse was mutual but Heard had a fear of abandonment and Depp attempted to de-escalate fights more often. 


Testimonies for Heard come from various close friends or co-workers that have seen injuries on her, or have seen Depp act violently after abusing alcohol or other substances. In addition, Heard herself has testified several sexual and violent assaults during their relationship. Audio tapes have been handled as evidence, showing both of them verbally assaulting each other.


Right now, the public opinion is on the side of Depp, but the jury will have to disregard the whole testimony of Heard and consider a liar for that to happen, as her op-ed did not recount any specific episodes of abuse, she cannot yet be considered a victim of domestic violence.

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