“I think Heard had a fairly consistent message and did not crumble during a very tough cross-examination,” attorney Rachel Fiset, managing partner of Zweiback, Fiset & Coleman, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “In her direct, Heard set the stage for how she fell in love with Johnny and then recounted how their relationship devolved into volatility and abuse throughout its course. For the most part, she sounded sincere in her love for him — and distraught as to the decline.”
However, Fiset believes Heard “may have downplayed her role in the volatility of the relationship too much” given the actress admits to physically abusing Depp on audiotapes played to the court. Fiset also notes that Heard is just that — an actress.
“She looked a bit rehearsed and she focused on her audience — the jury — which could rub the jury the wrong way because it looks a bit contrived and at times she came across as overdoing it,” she explains.
Defamation lawyer Jeff Lewis, who gives Heard “high marks” for her testimony on direct examination, believes some of that could work.
“For Amber Heard to prevail, all she needs to do is convince the jury that at least one act of violence occurred,” he explains to Yahoo. “Amber’s account of the sexual violence, in particular, was dramatic and riveting for the jury.”
Lewis continues, “That said, the cross-examination was masterfully done: Short, objection-proof questions that destroyed Heard’s credibility. The questions in particular about the audio of her taunting Johnny Depp that no one would ever believe that he was a victim of violence was very strong and Heard’s response to that line of questioning was weak.”
Lewis believes Heard made a mistake by “being combative with Depp’s lawyer.”
“For example, suggesting that Depp’s lawyer doesn’t really understand cocaine, as well as Amber Heard, does? That might be true, but that particular issue — of Amber being more experienced with drugs — may not win over the jury,” he shares. “Direct examination went very well for Heard but the cross-examination eliminated any gains she made.”
Lewis gave Depp’s lawyers points for bringing out the knife Heard gifted the actor amid their volatile relationship.
“What victim of domestic violence would make such a gift? And having that knife in court — rather than a mere photo of it — was good lawyering by Depp’s legal team,” he adds.
Depp is suing Heard for $50 million for a 2018 op-ed she wrote in the Washington Post in which she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Heard is countersuing Depp for $100 million.
Fiset had an interesting take when asked if Heard potentially made any missteps.
“The alleged abuse is so abhorrent that she set a very high bar to prove its truth, which may leave the jury confused on what would be necessary to show she was a survivor of domestic abuse as she claimed in the op-ed. She could have detailed much milder events to get over her hurdle of ‘abuse,'” she explains. “Given the wide disparity in each party’s story, the jury has to decide what it determines to be domestic abuse inside the relationship and what [Amber’s] ‘truth’ was in writing the op-ed. This trial has turned into a battle of he said, she said on these hideous allegations.”
As for how Heard’s time on the stand compares to her ex-husband’s, both attorneys note the Johnny Depp factor.
“They are both passionate about their case. Johnny Depp, is well, Johnny Depp, and came across as sincere in his testimony but I felt he was definitely at the trial in a pursuit to clear his name and regain traction in his career,” Fiset says. “Amber Heard’s testimony felt a bit rehearsed but she has a lot to lose in this case and may have simply been more nervous.”
Lewis adds: “The jury reportedly hung on every word that Depp said. The courtroom laughed along with his jokes. Depp’s off-the-stand demeanor while doodling at the counsel table is noticed by the jury and is a way for Depp to connect with the jury in a way that Heard has not been able to connect. Depp is quite friendly with his counsel and the jury can see and watch how he treats others and will take those off-the-witness stand moments into consideration when assessing his credibility. Depp was very vulnerable and open with the jury and not defensive. He was well prepared to testify.”
However, Lewis points out that some of Heard’s witnesses have been very compelling, in particular, the testimony of her former makeup artist. Melanie Inglessis said she covered up bruises and a split lip that Heard allegedly sustained in December 2015 after a violent fight with Depp.
“Anytime a third party offers corroborating testimony in a ‘he said, she said’ case, that testimony will be important to a jury,” he states.
It remains to be seen whether Depp or Heard will prevail in the courtroom, but experts believe each star has a chance at winning.
Entertainment lawyer Domenic Romano, founder and managing partner of Romano Law, gives a slight edge to Heard: “At the start of his testimony, Depp stressed that he was seeking ‘the truth.’ So far, the facts that have been uncovered have been overwhelming negative for Depp, especially concerning his alleged drug and alcohol use. Depp has little to gain and a lot to lose by proceeding with this case.”
Depp is still winning over the public, though, and potentially the jury.
“If the jury is taking the same side as the general public, then Depp has a strong chance of winning. What has been presented in the case and the elements that Depp would have to show to prove defamation, however, should weigh in favor of Amber Heard. In my opinion, she will have a narrow victory on her defense and will likely not win her counterclaim,” Fiset says.
Lewis says “things are going very well for Depp,” who “has the opportunity to offer up rebuttal testimony before closing arguments,” which are set for May 27, after which the jury will begin deliberations.
“Heard’s best strategy seems to be on the issue of damages: that Depp’s career was on the way down before her op-ed was published and that Heard was not the actual cause of any damage to him,” he explains. “I would also expect Heard’s counsel to summarize during closing arguments any of the third-party corroboration to the violence claims: the make-up artist and her sister in particular. For Depp’s part, I expect the audio of her taunting him about not being believed, the gift of the knife and the dozens of discrepancies in the timeline to be presented in the closing arguments.”
In the end, it may not matter who wins — to the public, at least.
“Amber is facing a lot of vitriol during this case,” Fiset adds. “I think most of the public has their minds made up as to who they are supporting and the facts and evidence may not be the driver for those feelings.”