The Depp-Heard defamation trial has grabbed international attention as two of Hollywood’s elites air their dirty laundry for the public to bear witness to. Both sides accuse the other of repeated domestic abuse. Here’s what we know so far.
Actor Johnny Depp has been suing his former wife actress Amber Heard for defamation over an opinion piece she wrote for The Washington Post in December 2018 calling herself a "public figure representing domestic abuse."
“I spoke up against sexual violence—and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change,” Heard wrote at the time of the height of the #metoo movement.
Although Heard did not name the Pirates of the Caribbean star in the op-ed, Depp alleges that the piece ruined his career by branding him as an abuser and leading to Disney and Warner Brothers dropping him from their franchises.
Heard, 36, had also filed for divorce and a restraining order against him in 2016 over claims that he was physically abusive towards her, an order she has since withdrawn.
Seeking $50 million in damages, the three-time Oscar nominee has denied ever being physically abusive towards Heard and has claimed repeatedly at the trial that she was the one who was frequently violent.
Heard is counter suing Depp for $100 million, alleging he orchestrated a public smear campaign against her by saying she was faking her domestic violence claims and injuries.
She says the demise of the 58-year-old’s career was his own doing due to his substance abuse and money management issues.
As reporters and fans crowd the Fairfax County court in Northern Virginia and international audiences tune in to the livestream aired by outlets such as Court TV and Law & Crime Network, here we break down the trial:
What is defamation and how do you prove it?
Defamation is the action of damaging the reputation of someone. These defamatory statements can be written (known as libel) or oral (known as slander).
In the United States, to show defamation took place a plaintiff must not only prove that the defendant lied about them but that this lie was published or communicated to a third party and done so negligently or out of actual malice.
In addition, the plaintiff must prove they suffered some form of damages due to the false statement and that there was a causal link between the remark and the harm that resulted from it.
When an attorney asked Depp in the trial “what have you lost as a result of Ms Heard making these allegations against you?” His response was: “Nothing less than everything.”
The defamation suit was filed in Virginia, where the Depp-Heard trial is taking place, because The Post houses its printing press and online server in Fairfax County. Although, the Post itself is not being sued by Depp for defamation.
Two years prior, he lost a libel case in London against the Sun for calling him a “wife beater.”
What has been the public response so far?
From the infamous 2015 fight which left Depp with a severed finger to substance abuse binges and a debate over feces in their bed, their tumultuous former relationship has grabbed international attention.
Both Heard and Depp have fan bases that have railed in support of them during one of the biggest celebrity court cases in recent memory.
Depp fans have arguably been louder – crowding the courtroom and receiving warnings from the Judge Penney Azcarate and deputies against laughing and cheering. One even brought emotional support alpacas to the courthouse to cheer Depp up, reports the Post.
Several fans carried posters echoing the trending social media hashtag #JusticeForJohnnyDepp, and Azcarate signed an order banning selfies or autographs with the actors.
What has happened so far?
In the opening arguments, Depp’s lawyers branded Heard a liar who is “obsessed with her public image” while Heard’s lawyers said the actress endured emotional, verbal and physical abuse from Depp.
Witness testimonies so far have included Depp’s older sister, Christi Dembrowski, Heard’s personal assistant Katherine James, and the couple’s former marriage counsellor, Dr. Laurel Anderson.
Last week, Depp testified against Heard for more than seven hours on Tuesday and Wednesday saying his goal to go to trail was “the truth because it killed me that all these people I had met over the years ... that these people would think that I was a fraud.”
In the following days, Depp was cross-examined by Heard’s defence lawyer Ben Rottenborn. Heard’s legal team played graphic audio recordings from the couple’s fights, including Heard screaming at Depp to “put his cigarettes out on someone else” and referencing a time when he “beat” her.
They also showcased violent text messages Depp had sent friends where he said he would like to kill Heard by drowning and burning her.
He claims it was only dark humour, echoing the Monty Python comedy troupe, but apologised to the court, claiming “in the heat of the pain I was feeling, I went to dark places.”
Depp continued to deny all abuse claims, stating “the only person I’ve abused in my life is myself” in response to grilling about his history of drug and alcohol use.
Meanwhile Depp’s attorney Jessica Meyers played audio clips for the jury of the couple's fights in which Heard says to Depp: "I did not punch you, I was hitting you…you didn’t get punched, you got hit.”
Heard also called Depp “a baby” in another clip and admits to starting physical fights while he runs away to lock himself in bedrooms and bathrooms.
In a particularly chilling recording, he tells Depp to “tell the world, Johnny tell them, Johnny Depp, I, Johnny Depp, a man, I’m a victim too of domestic violence.”
Starting week three off, Depp’s attorneys called Ben King as a witness to the stand on Monday. King managed the home where the couple stayed in during the 2015 filming of the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie – which was the stage of a key moment in the trial.
During their stay, Depp told the jury Heard threw a glass bottle at him, smashing against his finger and severing it at the edge. While Heard's team suggests Depp cut it with a knife in the kitchen.
But King's testimony backed up Depp's account after he said he found the severed fingertip on the floor along with a broken bottle under the marble bar top that had a "big chunk" broken off.
Overall, the celebrity trial touches on serious issues involving domestic violence, as many fear the chilling effect it may have on victims coming forward with their allegations of assault and the possible dangers of social movements and cancel culture.
With the judge and jury still awaiting Heard’s testimony, as well as possible witness testimonies from celebrities including James Franco and Elon Musk, it seems anything can happen in this case expected to last six weeks.