Actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are suing each other for defamation after fallout from their brief marriage and legal sparring over a 2018 Washington Post opinion piece in which Heard referred to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
The trial is taking place at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia before a seven-person jury. Opening statements began on April 12, and the trial is expected to last about six weeks. Depp, 58, took the stand on Monday for the fourth day of testimony over his allegations that Heard, 35, falsely portrayed him as a domestic abuser.
While centered on the opinion piece, the trial has become a sprawling inquiry into the couple’s tumultuous marriage. Here’s everything we know so far about the defamation trial.
Why is Depp suing Heard?
In 2018, Heard penned an op-ed where she talked about standing up against sexual violence as a woman, and “how institutions protect men accused of abuse.” Heard didn’t mention Depp by name in the piece, but she wrote that two years before the article’s publication, she became a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
Heard and Depp were married from February 2015 to August 2016. The actors first met on the set of the film “The Rum Diary” in 2009. Depp, who starred as Jack Sparrow in the blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, filed the lawsuit in 2019, asserting that Heard’s allegations cost him his career and reputation.
“Mr. Depp brings this defamation action to clear his name,” the lawsuit said.
Depp is suing Heard for $50 million.
Why is Heard suing Depp?
Heard then countersued Depp in 2020 after more than a year of legal sparring in response to the op-ed. Heard alleged that Depp defamed her when his former lawyer, Adam Waldman, released statements to the press saying her allegations of abuse were an “elaborate hoax.”
Heard has countersued for $100 million, saying Depp smeared her by calling her a liar.
What did Heard say in the Washington Post op-ed? And what led up to it?
In the opinion piece, Heard describes being exposed to abuse at a young age, but not having the language to articulate it. “I didn’t see myself as a victim,” she wrote, “then two years ago, I became a pubic figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”
Heard was referring to a 2016 temporary restraining order that Heard was granted against Depp after she showed up to a California court with a bruised face, alleging in an application for the order that Depp had thrown a phone at her face in close range. In the application, Heard claimed that Depp was verbally and physically abusive to her throughout their relationship, and recalled an incident where he allegedly grabbed her by the hair and shoved her to the ground. Depp denied the accounts, claiming in court papers that Heard had punched him.
“Friends and advisers told me I would never again work as an actress — that I would be blacklisted,” Heard wrote in the Washington Post opinion piece. “A movie I was attached to recast my role. I had just shot a two-year campaign as the face of a global fashion brand, and the company dropped me.”
Heard continued that the #MeToo movement had educated people about “how power like this works. ... In every walk of life, women are confronting these men who are buoyed by social, economic, and cultural power. And these institutions are beginning to change.”
Heard was identified at the top of the piece as an actress and ambassador on women’s rights for the American Civil Liberties Union. In court papers, Heard said the ACLU had suggested that she write and submit the piece.
What are some notable moments from the trial so far?
Depp has testified that he had never struck Heard, nor any other woman. He also told the court that Heard was the aggressor in the relationship.
“It could begin with a slap, it could begin with a shove, it could begin with throwing a TV remote at my head, throwing a glass of wine in my face,” Depp said.
Depp detailed his account of one incident in which part of his finger was sliced off during a fight with Heard when the pair was in Australia for the filming of the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.
Depp testified it was Heard who severed the tip of his finger when she allegedly threw a vodka bottle at him. But a lawyer for Heard pushed back, playing a phone recording during cross-examination on Thursday in which Depp references “the day I chopped my finger off.” The defense argued that Depp severed his own finger, not Heard.
“Why would I start lopping off digits in my 50s?” Depp responded. “I can’t take responsibility for what I now call Little Richard, my chopped finger.”
Heard’s lawyers have focused on Depp’s drinking, drug use, and fiery interactions with Heard. They have also alleged that Depp sexually abused Heard and referenced his history of trashing hotel rooms and other past behavior. Depp is also facing a lawsuit filed by a member of a film crew who alleges the actor assaulted them in 2018, according to The New York Times.
A British judge in 2020 found there was “overwhelming evidence” that Depp had assaulted Heard repeatedly during their marriage. Many of the allegations being aired in the Virginia courtroom have already been heard in the British case, which Depp lost.
Who else will testify?
Depp wrapped up his testimony on Monday. Heard will also take the stand, and her lawyers released an extensive potential witness list, which includes Elon Musk and James Franco. Heard reportedly exchanged texts with Musk about her marriage that were used as evidence in the British case.
Other potential witnesses include the executive director of the ACLU and friends of Heard’s who were present for key incidents.
Material from The New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.