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Virginia Jury Hands Down Stunning Verdict, Mostly in Johnny Depp’s Favor, at End of Rollercoaster Defamation Trial Against Amber Heard

Johnny Depp, and Amber Heard in court.

Johnny Depp, and Amber Heard in court.

Just more than six years after his ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of domestic abuse, Johnny Depp obtained a verdict from a Virginia jury finding that those allegations defamed him. Heard will be forced to pay more than $10 million to Depp. Then in a stunning reversal, the same jury awarded $2 million to Heard for Depp’s lawyer’s claim that the Aquaman actress’s allegations were an “ambush, a hoax.”

The jury began deliberations immediately after closing arguments concluded on Friday.

Some 12 hours and 45 minutes later stretched across three days, the jurors reached a unanimous verdict, but Judge Penney Azcarate informed the jurors that they did not fill in a damages award. She sent the jurors back to the deliberations room to decide on a dollar figure. They assigned $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages against Heard, but the judge said punitive damages were capped at $350,000. Then, they issued a ruling against Depp for $2 million.

“In the Blink of an Eye”

Though it was mixed, Depp counted the verdict as a decisive win in a statement released through a spokesman.

“Six years ago, my life, the life of my children, the lives of those closest to me, and also, the lives of the people who for many, many years have supported and believed in me were forever changed,” he said. “All in the blink of an eye.”

“False, very serious and criminal allegations were levied at me via the media, which triggered an endless barrage of hateful content, although no charges were ever brought against me,” his statement continued. “It had already traveled around the world twice within a nanosecond and it had a seismic impact on my life and my career.”

“And six years later, the jury gave me my life back,” he added. “I am truly humbled.”

Heard, too, perceived the verdict as a resounding defeat for her.

“The disappointment I feel today is beyond words,” she wrote in a statement. “I’m heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband.”

“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women,” the statement continued. “It is a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously.”

On Dec. 18, 2018, Heard’s byline appeared on a Washington Post op-ed stating that she “became a public figure representing domestic abuse” two years earlier. Depp’s name didn’t appear in the story, but that is when Heard first accused him of assaulting her throughout the course of their relationship. Heard claimed in divorce filings that Depp subjected her to verbal, physical and emotional abuse throughout their relationship.

Later, Heard came forward with allegations of sexual assault, including an alleged rape with a whiskey bottle. Depp denied everything, depicting himself as the abuse victim. He claimed that Heard assaulted him with a bottle of vodka, which she allegedly threw at him. He claimed it shattered, slicing off his fingertip.

The jury was forced to examine three separate statements from the editorial, starting with the headline: “I spoke up against sexual violence—and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

The second involved Heard’s description of herself as a public figure representing domestic abuse, and the last statement at issue involved the public’s response: “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”

The jury found all three of those statements defamatory, but they only found one statement by Depp’s attorney Adam Waldman defamed Heard. That was a statement suggesting a coordinated plot between Heard and her friends to smear her during a specific incident.

“”Quite simply this was an ambush, a hoax,” Waldman told the U.K. Daily Mail on April 27, 2020, in the statement the jury found defamatory. “They set Mr. Depp up by calling the cops but the first attempt didn’t do the trick. The officers came to the penthouses, thoroughly searched and interviewed, and left after seeing no damage to face or property. So Amber and her friends spilled a little wine and roughed the place up, got their stories straight under the direction of a lawyer and publicist, and then placed a second call to 911.”

To argue against defamation, Heard’s attorneys told a jury that their client didn’t lie, but they also argued that jurors did not have to believe Heard to find her words protected by the First Amendment. Whether any or all of her accusations were true, they said, Heard became a public figure speaking on that topic.

On Wednesday, a unanimous seven-member jury rejected that argument.

Depp was not on hand in the courtroom in Fairfax County, Va., when the decision was reached. The Pirates of the Caribbean actor and musician had been performing his friend and “musical soulmateJeff Beck in surprise U.K. concerts over the holiday weekend. A source close to Depp disclosed that the he’s not yet done jamming with his friend.

“Due to previously scheduled work commitments made before the trial, Mr. Depp will not be physically present for today’s 3 p.m. verdict and will be watching from the United Kingdom,” the source said.

Amber Heard verdict

Amber Heard looks downcast during the recitation of the jury’s verdict in favor of Johnny Depp. (Photo via Law&Crime Network)

A source close to Heard, who did attend the verdict’s recitation, slammed Depp for what she called a demonstration of his priorities.

“Your presence shows where your priorities are,” the source said. “Johnny Depp plays guitar in the U.K. while Amber Heard waits for a verdict in Virginia. Depp is taking his snickering and lack of seriousness on tour.”

“Truth Never Perishes”

Throughout the trial, Heard’s attorneys criticized Depp for not looking his ex-wife in the eye when he testified. Instead, the actor largely gazed his head down toward the monitor and appeared to make joking comments to his lawyer Benjamin Chew.

Depp’s other attorney Camille Vasquez, who gained a social media cult following for her pugnacious cross-examinations, said that her client avoided eye contact because Heard abused him, and he promised her that she would never lay eyes on him again when they parted.

Legal expert Mitchell Epner, a partner at Rottenberg Lipman Rich, P.C. experienced in First Amendment law, said that the verdict may have been mixed, but it was resoundingly in Depp’s favor.

“This is a victory for Johnny Depp,” he told Law&Crime, writing that the jury’s clear finding that he “did NOT abuse” Heard is worth more than an award that she may not have the funds to satisfy. “This makes Johnny Depp a bankable Hollywood movie star again. The only verdict against Depp was that his attorney defamed her in saying that she set him up to be falsely accused of domestic violence.”

The verdict means that the U.K. and U.S. legal systems reached diametrically different results on Heard’s allegations against Depp.

In London, Depp sued The Sun for running an editorial calling him a “wife beater,” a description that a high court judge found “substantially true.” The judge there credited 12 out of 14 of her allegations against Depp.

Heard alluded to that outcome in her statement.

“I believe Johnny’s attorneys succeeded in getting the jury to overlook the key issue of Freedom of Speech and ignore evidence that was so conclusive that we won in the UK,” she wrote in a statement. “I’m sad I lost this case. But I am sadder still that I seem to have lost a right I thought I had as an American – to speak freely and openly.”

Depp consistently denied the allegations of violence, saying that Heard abused him. He said that his truth finally prevailed at trial.

“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 wrote. “I also hope that the position will now return to innocent until proven guilty, both within the courts and in the media.”

The actor ended his statement with the Latin phrase “Veritas numquam perit,” or “truth never perishes.”

Read Law&Crime’s coverage of closing arguments by Johnny Depp’s attorneys here: “‘What’s at Stake in This Trial Is a Man’s Good Name’: Lawyer Urges Jury to Believe Johnny Depp and Give Him ‘His Life Back’”

Read Law&Crime’s coverage of closing arguments by Amber Heard’s attorneys here: “Amber Heard’s Lawyer Calls Johnny Depp’s Lawsuit ‘Victim-Blaming at Its Most Disgusting,’ Tells Jurors Op-Ed Was No ‘Hit Piece’”

Read the verdict sheet, below:

(Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."