Johnny Depp’s lawyers asked a jury yesterday “to give him his life back” by finding that his ex-wife, Amber Heard, had committed libel.
eard “ruined his life by falsely telling the world she was a survivor of domestic abuse at the hands of Mr Depp”, lawyer Camille Vasquez told the jury in closing arguments, referencing Heard’s allegations she had been physically and sexually assaulted by Depp on numerous occasions.
Depp is hoping the six-week trial will help restore his reputation, although it has turned into a spectacle of a vicious marriage, with broadcast cameras in the courtroom capturing every twist for an increasingly rapt audience as fans weighed in on social media and lined up overnight for coveted courtroom seats.
“This case for Mr Depp has never been about money,” said Depp’s lawyer Benjamin Chew. “It is about Mr Depp’s reputation and freeing him from the prison in which he has lived for the last six years.”
Heard’s lawyer, J Benjamin Rottenborn, said the lawsuit was not about Depp’s reputation but was part of a continuing smear campaign Depp launched after Heard filed for divorce.
“In Mr Depp’s world, you don’t leave Mr Depp,” he said. “If you do, he will start a campaign of global humiliation against you.”
Depp is suing Heard for $50m (€46m) in Virginia’s Fairfax County Circuit Court over a December 2018 article she wrote in the Washington Post describing herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse”.
His lawyers say he was defamed by the article, even though it never mentioned his name.
Heard filed a $100m (€93m) counter-claim against Depp after his lawyer called her allegations a hoax.
Although the counter-claim has received less attention at the trial, Heard’s lawyer Elaine Bredehoft said it provided an avenue for the jury to compensate Heard for the abuse Depp has inflicted on her by orchestrating a smear campaign against her.
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“We’re asking you to finally hold this man responsible,” she told the jury. “He has never accepted responsibility for anything in his life.”
Depp says he never struck Heard and that she concocted the abuse allegations to gain an advantage in divorce proceedings. He has said he was often physically attacked by Heard. “There is an abuser in this courtroom, but it is not Mr Depp,” Ms Vasquez said.
Heard testified about more than a dozen episodes of physical and sexual assault she said Depp inflicted on her.
Ms Vasquez, in her closing statement, noted that Heard had to revise her testimony about the first time she said she was struck.
Heard said Depp hit her after she inadvertently laughed at one of his tattoos.
Heard initially said it happened in 2013 – after a fairy tale year of courtship and romance – but later corrected herself to say it happened in 2012, very early in their relationship.
“Now in this courtroom she has suddenly erased an entire year of magic,” Ms Vasquez said.
Jurors have seen multiple photos of Heard with marks and bruises on her face, but some photos show only mild redness and others show more severe bruising.
Ms Vasquez accused Heard of doctoring the photos and said evidence that she had embellished some of her injuries was proof that all her claims of abuse were unfounded.
“You either believe all of it, or none of it,” she said. “Either she is a victim of ugly, horrible abuse or she is a woman who is willing to say absolutely anything.”
In his closing speech, Mr Rotten born said the nitpicking over Heard’s evidence of abuse ignored the fact there was overwhelming evidence on her behalf and sent a dangerous message to domestic violence victims.
“If you didn’t take pictures, it didn’t happen,” Mr Rottenborn said. “If you did take pictures, they’re fake. If you didn’t tell your friends, they’re lying. If you did tell your friends, they’re part of the hoax.”
He rejected Ms Vasquez’s suggestion that if the jury thinks Heard might be embellishing on a single act of abuse, they have to disregard everything she says. He said Depp’s libel claim must fail if Heard suffered even a single incident of abuse.
“They’re trying to trick you into thinking Amber has to be perfect to win,” Mr Rottenborn said.
When the jury deliberates, it will have to focus not only on whether there was abuse, but also whether Heard’s article can be considered legally defamatory.
The article itself focuses mostly on policy questions of domestic violence, but Depp’s lawyers point to two passages in it, as well as an online headline that they say defamed Depp.
The jury of seven must now deliver a unanimous decision for a verdict following the closing arguments.
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