Depp also issued a statement thanking the jury and describing Heard’s initial claims against him as “false, very serious and criminal”.
“Although no charges were ever brought against me, it had already travelled around the world twice within a nanosecond and it had a seismic impact on my life and career. Six years later, the jury gave me back my life. I am truly humbled. Truth never perishes,” he said.
The verdict brings to an end one of the most gripping and confronting defamation cases in recent years.
At the centre of Depp’s $US50 million ($67 million) lawsuit was a 2018 Washington Post op-ed written by Heard titled, “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”
While the article never mentioned Depp by name, his lawyers argued it indirectly refers to allegations Heard made against him in 2016 when the couple divorced and she was granted a temporary restraining order after showing up to a California court with a bruised face, claiming that Depp had thrown a phone at her.
Heard, in response, had counter-sued Depp for $US100 million, over claims by his former lawyer that she was engaging in an “abuse hoax”. She argued that it was Depp’s own behaviour – fuelled by drugs and alcohol – that led to his demise.
While the jury ruled in favour of Depp, it also found that one of the three statements at the centre of Heard’s lawsuit, made by Depp’s former lawyer, had been defamatory, and awarded her $2 million.
While celebrity lawsuits can be intriguing at the best of times, this case had all the elements of a toxic soap opera: two jilted exes trying to convince a jury that they were the victim and the other the aggressor; witness list including billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, actor James Franco and supermodel Kate Moss; and sordid evidence – from photos of faeces placed on Depp’s bed as an act of revenge by Heard, to audio of Depp vomiting violently as he came down from a cocktail of drugs and alcohol.
Of the many confronting moments in the trial, one of the most vile came in the form of a 2013 text message by Depp to his friend, British actor Paul Bettany, where Depp wrote: “Let’s burn Amber!!!” Bettany replied: “Having thought it through I don’t think we should burn Amber”.
Depp then texted: “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I will f–– her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.”
What made the case more surreal, however, was the setting.
On most days, the Fairfax County District Courthouse is an otherwise uneventful legal precinct tucked away in a quiet corner of northern Virginia, about 40 minutes from the nation’s capital.
But for the past six weeks, spectators – most of them fans of Depp – had lined up well before sunrise to catch a glimpse of the pair or score a wristband guaranteeing one of the coveted 100 viewing seats in room 5J.
This was also a tale of two trials – one decided by a jury and another by the court of public opinion.
From the beginning, it was clear that most of the online traffic was siding with Johnny Depp and suspicious of Heard.
This came despite much of trial’s central evidence having been aired in court two years ago, when Depp sued The Sun for calling him a “wife beater.” The judge in that case ruled that Heard’s abuse claims were “substantially true.”
Outside court, Depp’s fans began gathering shortly after 2pm when it announced that the jury had come to a decision. At 3.01pm, the jury arrived with a verdict, only to be sent back by Judge Penney Azcarate after she realised they had not written the damage amount on the verdict form.
They returned about 15 minutes later, siding with Depp on all counts, including the legal threshold that Heard had “acted with malice” in writing the opinion piece. The jury awarded Depp $US15 million in damages – including $US5 million for punitive damages – but also gave Heard $US2 million in counterclaim.
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