Jury reaches verdict: Johnny Depp wins libel trial, Amber Heard partially wins countersuit.
The verdict is in: Johnny Depp won the defamation lawsuit he filed accusing ex Amber Heard of defaming the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star in a 2018 op-ed, with a Virginia jury awarding him more than $10 million in damages and vindicating his stance that Heard fabricated claims that she was abused by Depp before and during their brief marriage.
The jury found Depp should receive $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, but the judge said state law caps punitive damages at $350,000, meaning Depp was awarded $10.35 million.
Heard also partially won her countersuit over comments made by Depp’s former lawyer Adam Waldman when he called her abuse allegations a hoax. The jury awarded her $2 million in damages.
The jury came to the unanimous verdict Wednesday following 13 hours of deliberations.
Depp said he was “truly humbled” that the “jury gave me my life back” in a statement to USA TODAY on Wednesday.
“My decision to pursue this case, knowing very well the height of the legal hurdles that I would be facing and the inevitable, worldwide spectacle into my life, was only made after considerable thought,” Depp’s statement read. “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.”
Heard was present in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
“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,” Heard said in a statement to USA TODAY.
“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback,” Heard continued. “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.”
Heard said she believes Depp’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,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Heard, Alafair Hall, confirmed to USA TODAY the actress plans to appeal the decision.
Jeff Lewis, a Los Angeles-based defamation lawyer, told USA TODAY in a statement Wednesday he predicts “both parties will likely appeal” and they “have the right to have an appeal heard.”
Depp’s lawyer Camille Vasquez told reporters and a sea of cheering Depp supporters outside the courthouse that the verdict “confirms what we have said from the beginning: that the claims against Johnny Depp are defamatory and unsupported by any evidence.”
Depp was not in attendance due to previously scheduled work commitments and watched from the U.K. The actor has been performing with Jeff Beck at the artist’s concerts overseas for the past few days, according to social media reports.
Closing arguments were made by Depp and Heard on Friday after six weeks of testimony. The seven-person civil jury then began deliberations, with a break for Memorial Day.
What the jury decided on was very different from the public debate that has engulfed the high-profile proceedings.
Testimony focused on details of alleged abuse that Heard says she suffered at the hands of Depp. Heard has outlined more than a dozen specific instances where she says she was assaulted by Depp.
Depp has denied any physical or sexual abuse, and says Heard concocted the claims to destroy Depp’s reputation. Depp’s legions of online fans have focused on their belief that Heard has been untruthful.
But the case itself was a defamation claim.
Why did Johnny Depp sue Amber Heard?
Depp, 58, sued Heard, 36, for $50 million, alleging she defamed him in an opinion column she published in The Washington Post in December 2018. In the column, she claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse.
That article never mentions Depp by name, but his lawyers said – and the jury agreed – he was defamed nonetheless. Most of the article discusses public policy as it relates to domestic violence, and Heard’s lawyers said she has a First Amendment right to weigh in.
Depp’s lawyers pointed to two passages in the article that they said clearly referred to Depp.
In the first passage, Heard wrote that “two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath.” Depp’s lawyers called it a clear reference to Depp, given that Heard publicly accused Depp of domestic violence in 2016 – two years before she wrote the article.
In a second passage, she stated, “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real-time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.” (Depp’s lawyers also sought damages over a headline that appeared above the online version of the article, which Heard didn’t write but tweeted along with the article.)