A Virginia jury has ruled that actor Amber Heard defamed her ex-husband Johnny Depp in an article in which she said she was a victim of abuse.
The jury has awarded Depp US$10 million in compensatory damages and $5m in punitive damages.
The jury found that Heard’s statements about her marriage were “false” and she acted with “actual malice”.
The decision was read in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia.
Depp, the 58-year-old Pirates of the Caribbean star, sued Heard for US$50 million and argued that she defamed him when she called herself “a public figure representing domestic abuse” in a newspaper opinion piece.
Heard, 36, countersued for US$100 million, saying Depp smeared her when his lawyer called her accusations a “hoax.”
The jury ruled that Heard’s defamation claims against Depp were unproven.
They found that Depp defamed Amber Heard but it was through his attorney, Adam Waldman, and only in one of three counts. She was awarded $2m in compensatory damages and nothing in punitive damages.
Depp has denied hitting Heard or any woman and said she was the one who turned violent in their relationship.
‘Disappointment beyond words’
Amber Heard released a statement after the verdict saying: “The disappointment I feel today is beyond words.
“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. 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.
“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.
“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”.
Johnny Depp said in his own statement the case had changed his life in the “blink of an eye”.
“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.
“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. It had already travelled 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. I am truly humbled.”
Depp and Heard met in 2011 while filming The Rum Diary and wed in February 2015. Their divorce was finalised about two years later.
At the centre of the legal case was a December 2018 opinion piece by Heard in the Washington Post in which she made the statement about domestic abuse. The article did not mention Depp by name but his lawyer told jurors it was clear that Heard was referring to him.
During six weeks of testimony, Heard’s attorneys argued that she had told the truth and that her comments were covered as free speech under the US Constitution’s First Amendment.
Throughout the case, jurors listened to recordings of the couple’s fights and saw graphic photos of Depp’s bloody finger. He said the top of the finger was severed when Heard threw a vodka bottle at him in 2015.
Heard denied injuring Depp’s finger and said Depp sexually assaulted her that night with a liquor bottle. She said she struck him only to defend herself or her sister.
Testimony was livestreamed widely on social media, drawing large audiences to hear details about the couple’s troubled relationship.
Once among Hollywood’s biggest stars, Depp said Heard’s allegations cost him “everything.” A new Pirates movie was put on hold and Depp was replaced in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, a ‘Harry Potter’ spinoff.
Depp lost a libel case less than two years ago against the Sun, a British tabloid that labelled him a “wife beater.” A London High Court judge ruled that he had repeatedly assaulted Heard.
Depp’s lawyers filed the US case in Fairfax County, Virginia, because the Washington Post is printed there. The newspaper is not a defendant.
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