Depp wins libel lawsuit against Heard, but both sides guilty of defamation, jury finds

A U.S. jury has ruled that Johnny Depp and his ex-wife, actor Amber Heard, were both defamed over claims of abuse before and during their brief marriage, but awarded Depp more damages in the highly public case.

Heard remained solemn in the Virginia courtroom as the verdict in the libel case was delivered. Depp was not present. 

Depp, perhaps best known for his starring role in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, had accused Heard of libelling him with a 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post describing herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.”

On Wednesday, the jury in Fairfax County Circuit Court sided with Depp on that front, and found he should be awarded $15 million US in damages. 

But the jury also had to rule on a counterclaim filed by Aquaman star Heard, who said she was defamed by Depp’s lawyer when he called her allegations a hoax.

The jury also found in favour of Heard, and said she should receive $2 million US.

Depp and Heard met on the set of the 2011 film The Rum Diary and married in Los Angeles in February 2015. Heard, a model and actress, filed for divorce the following year and obtained a restraining order against Depp on the grounds of domestic abuse. The divorce was finalized in 2017.

Heard ‘disappointed,’ Depp ‘humbled’

Following the verdict, Heard 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.

Meanwhile, Depp 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 Instagram.

WATCH | The social media trial of Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard:

The social media trial of Johnny Depp v Amber Heard

In the court of public opinion, actor Johnny Depp is winning sympathy from social media users who mock his ex-wife Amber Heard and re-enact her claims of abuse for views. There are concerns their highly publicized court battle, which has been livestreamed online, will prevent domestic abuse survivors from speaking out.

Trial testimony focused largely on abuse claims

The seven-person civil jury had to come to a unanimous decision to reach each verdict. They deliberated for about 12 hours over three days.

While the legal case was about proving libel, most of the testimony during the six-week trial focused on whether Heard had been physically and sexually abused, as she claimed. Heard listed more than a dozen alleged assaults and both sides shared lurid details about their short and volatile marriage.

Depp said he never struck Heard, that she concocted the allegations and that she was the one who physically attacked him, multiple times.

Jurors had to decide both claims based on whether or not the statements were made with “actual malice,” meaning those involved knew what they were saying was false, or were acting with a reckless disregard for the truth.

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