The verdict has been rendered in the defamation lawsuit filed by Johnny Depp against his ex-wife Amber Heard. The jury found in favor of Depp on all three charges, supporting his claim that statements Heard made in a December 2018 article were defamatory and done with “actual malice.” Depp is to be awarded $10 million in compensatory damages and another $5 million in punitive damages (although Judge Penney Azcarate said that latter number would be capped at $350,000 due to state laws).
Heard’s countersuit was not deemed to be fully successful, specifically that she and her team did not prove all the necessary elements of defamation. She was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages over one claim related to Waldan’s quotes.
Depp sued Heard over a Washington Post op-ed, in which she referred to herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” Heard never named Depp in the piece, but the Pirates of the Caribbean actor said it affected his ability to get work and sought $50 million. She countersued Depp in 2020 for $100 million, stating that Depp and his team had tarnished her reputation by attempting to discredit her allegations against him. She specifically cited comments by Adam Waldman, a one-time lawyer for Depp.
In a statement released on Instagram, Depp wrote, “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…And six years later, the jury gave me my life back.”
In a statement released on social media following the decision, Heard wrote, “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 women who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated.”
It was Depp’s second high-profile lawsuit, following a libel case he lost against English tabloid The Sun, which referred to him as a “wife beater.”
The trial took place in Virginia because of the location of the Post’s press, and has been omnipresent in the news and on social media during the previous six weeks. During testimony, Heard accused Depp of various acts of abuse, including that he had “sexually assaulted” her while they were on a trip to Australia. Her legal team also presented disturbing text messages Depp had written about her when the pair were still married. Depp and his team denied those claims, while arguing that Heard had been physically violent towards him and claiming she had doctored photographs to show that she had been abused.
Outlets like the Poynter Institute have noted that the trial could affect whether victims of domestic abuse are willing to share their experiences in writing or potentially moving forward with charges.
The impact the verdict has on the two actors’ career will take years to fully grasp. Depp resigned from his role in the Harry Potter spin-off franchise Fantastic Beasts at the study’s request days after losing his libel trial, and has primarily appeared in smaller films over the last few years. Heard’s acting output has also dropped considerably, though she has a prominent role in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, a DC superhero film due out in March 2023.
Heard has the option to appeal the case.