A jury found that Amber Heard defamed Johnny Depp in an opinion piece claiming she was a victim of domestic abuse, a victory for the Hollywood actor after several weeks of sordid testimony as the former spouses accused each other of destroying their careers.
Depp was awarded $15mn in damages for libel, while the jury also awarded Heard $2mn in damages from Depp as the result of her counter-lawsuit.
Depp, one of the world’s biggest movie stars, sued his former wife for $50mn over a 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post during the height of the #MeToo movement. Heard filed a $100mn countersuit after Depp’s lawyer described her accusations as a “hoax”.
“The disappointment I feel today is beyond words”, Heard wrote on Twitter after the verdict. “It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up . . . could be publicly shamed and humiliated.”
The trial was one of the biggest celebrity court cases in recent memory, turning into a media circus that played out on television and social media platforms globally.
Outlets live-streamed from inside the courtroom, while fans brought flowers, pirate flags and even live alpacas to the Fairfax courthouse to cheer on Depp.
It was also one of the first big celebrity trials to take place in the age of social media, where users reenacted pieces of testimony and created memes about the case. Fan support overwhelmingly favoured Depp, with the hashtag #JusticeForJohnnyDepp reaching some 10bn views on TikTok.
Depp previously lost a libel case at the High Court in London, in which he sued The Sun newspaper for labelling him a “wife beater” in 2020.
The case was heard in Fairfax, Virginia, where The Washington Post houses its printing press. Heard did not name Depp in her op-ed.
Heard told the seven-person jury that Depp assaulted her repeatedly during their relationship, providing photos, recordings and videos to prove her case. Her lawyers read out texts in which Depp said he wanted to “burn” Heard.
Depp denied the allegations of abuse, and said that she was the one who struck him. Both have aired sordid details of their volatile relationship, such as a 2015 incident in which Depp accused Heard of throwing a vodka bottle at him that severed the top of his middle finger. Heard, however, said that Depp was the one who assaulted her with the bottle.
Depp alleges that Disney dropped him from the sixth Pirates of the Caribbean film after Heard’s op-ed.