Johnny Depp, Amber Heard awarded millions in split verdict

U.S.

FAIRFAX, Va. (NewsNation) — Actor Johnny Depp won his $50 million libel lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard Wednesday, with a jury awarding him $15 million in damages.

In a $100 million counterclaim, the jury subsequently ruled in favor of Heard, awarding her $2 million in damages.

The jury also found Heard was defamed by a lawyer for Depp who accused her of creating a detailed hoax that included roughing up their apartment to look worse for police. 

The civil jury in Virginia spent about 12 hours over three days deliberating defamation claims by Depp and Heard. To reach the verdicts, the seven-person jury had to come to a unanimous decision.

Depp filed the defamation suit against Heard in Fairfax County Circuit Court, alleging that a 2018 op-ed piece she wrote in The Washington Post damaged his reputation and hurt his career. In the article, Heard described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.”

According to Heard’s counterclaim, she was defamed when Depp’s lawyer called her abuse allegations a hoax.

Heard reacted to the verdict in a statement, 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,” she 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.”

Depp on social media also released a statement saying, in part, “From the very beginning, the goal of bringing this case was to reveal the truth, regardless of the outcome. Speaking the truth was something that I owed to my children and to all those who have remained steadfast in their support of me. I feel at peace knowing I have finally accomplished that.”

The verdicts bring an end to a six-week-long, televised trial that featured lurid testimony with explicit details about the movie stars’ short and volatile marriage.

Jurors had to decide both claims based on whether the statements were made with “actual malice,” meaning they knew what they were saying was false, or were acting with a reckless disregard for the truth. The seven-member jury had to decide if two passages and the headline of the article were defamatory.

Depp is not mentioned by name in the Washington Post article, but his lawyers argued that it was clear Heard was referring to Depp, given that she had publicly accused him of domestic violence during their 2016 divorce proceedings. Heard’s lawyers said most of the article focused on public policy on domestic violence and that she had a First Amendment right to weigh in on that subject. They also maintain that Depp did in fact abuse Heard.

During the trial, Heard described more than a dozen specific instances when she said Depp abused her, including her allegation that he sexually assaulted her with a liquor bottle in an alcohol-fueled rage. Depp has denied any physical or sexual abuse, and said Heard concocted the claims to destroy his reputation. He has also claimed that she physically attacked him on multiple occasions.

Heard filed a $100 million counterclaim against Depp after his former lawyer called her allegations a hoax. The counterclaim has received less attention during the trial, but Heard’s lawyer told jurors it provides an avenue for the jury to compensate Heard for the abuse Depp inflicted on her by orchestrating a smear campaign after they split up.

Social media reaction to the trial was swift and intense. As testimony in the case began, a separate trial unfolded online — one of opposing hashtags and TikToks reenacting emotional testimony. Regardless of the verdict, domestic violence experts worry the public’s response to the trial might dissuade victims of domestic violence from reporting their abusers.

This story is developing. Refresh for updates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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