For weeks, millions have listened and seen the ominous evidence in the Depp-Heard trial. But whoever wins will come down to something much simpler.
The defamation trial involving Johnny Depp and Amber Heard has revealed many startling and sometimes ominous details.
In addition to allegations of physical abuse, jurors and viewers heard allegations of lawyer leaks, broken bottles, blood-stained mirrors, broken phones, and broken donation promises. We have even heard claims of feces left in bed.
But when the jury retires to deliver their verdict, the whole case — at its core — rests on just 12 words: “Then two years ago I became a public figure representing domestic violence…”
This proposal – in fact, only half of the proposal – was published in a major newspaper under the name of Amber Heard.
Depp sued Heard for $50 million (AU$67 million) for this. Washington Post ed.
She didn’t name Depp, but his team says it doesn’t matter as the conclusion is clear – she claims Depp is a rapist. He claims Heard’s allegations are false and cost him lucrative movie roles.
After six weeks of testimony at the Fairfax County Courthouse in Virginia, near Washington, D.C., the jury retired to reach its verdict.
Monday is a Memorial Day holiday in the US, so the seven men and women won’t meet until Tuesday US time.
They could potentially issue a verdict on the same day, early Wednesday morning in Australia. But the sheer amount of evidence presented means it could likely take a few more days.
Newspaper article at the heart of the case
The case is based on an article published under Hurd’s name in Washington Post December 18, 2018.
It was titled: “I took a stand against sexual abuse—and faced the wrath of our culture. This must change.”
The article was co-written with the American Civil Liberties Union, of which Hurd was an ambassador.
In the article, she says she was “abused at a very young age.” that she knew from the start that “men have power”; and by the time she entered college, she had been harassed and sexually assaulted.
None of this would have made it to court.
But then this phrase came.
“Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic violence and felt the full force of our culture’s anger at women who speak up.”
Depp’s legal team said the absence of his name from the article was irrelevant. That’s because, they say, anyone following the couple’s tumultuous relationship would have seen a mention of two years ago and would link it to May 2016, when Heard showed up at a California courthouse and received a restraining order against Depp.
During that speech in court, she had a bruise on her cheek. She also appeared on the cover of a major American sports injury magazine.
Depp denied ever assaulting his ex-wife, which is why his legal team said the article was a clear case of Heard’s slander against him.
UK case preceding this process
This is not the first time Depp has been accused of domestic violence. In 2020, Depp sued a British newspaper Sun who called him a “wife beater”. He lost the case.
The judge ruled that Depp’s feelings for his wife during their tumultuous three-year relationship were set out in a text in which the actor admitted he had no “mercy” for her.
It also concluded that Depp had slapped Ms. Heard 12 times out of 14 reported since 2013, when he slapped the actress when she commented on his tattoo.
But the legal systems of England and the legal system of Virginia are different. And in the UK, he sued the publication, not the person.
In Britain, the burden of responsibility lay with Sun to prove that Depp attacked Heard. In the US, it is Depp’s responsibility to rebut Heard’s claims of domestic violence.
And for weeks, Depp’s legal team has been trying to do just that. They questioned the veracity of the images of the bruises, saying she told gossip site TMZ as part of a campaign to vilify Depp and that she, not him, was the real abuser in their broken relationship.
Hurd’s team, by contrast, tried to establish a pattern to Depp’s abuse.
Moss’ testimony didn’t help Hurd
But the evidence for that pattern stalled a bit when Depp’s ex-girlfriend, supermodel Kate Moss, came out blunt last week.
The star’s testimony took just four minutes, during which she refuted a rumor raised in Heard’s court that Depp threw her down the stairs while the former couple was vacationing in Jamaica.
Rather, Moss said, she slipped and Depp really took care of her and gave her medical attention.
“He never pushed me, kicked me or threw me down the stairs,” Moss said.
“If Amber has ever been abused by Depp, she has won”
But in his closing statements on Friday, Heard’s lawyer Benjamin Rottenborn reminded jurors that the burden of proof is on Depp and that he needs to show that every single case of abuse Heard accuses him of was false.
He pointed out that it also needed to prove that the allegations were made by Heard with malice in order for Depp to win a civil case.
“If Amber was abused by Mr. Depp even once, then she won,” Rottenborn said.
“We’re not just talking about physical abuse, we’re talking about emotional abuse, physical abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse.
“It’s not about whose wife is better,” he added.
“It’s not about whether you think Ms. Heard abused Mr. Depp.
“If you think they both insulted each other… then Amber wins.”
Depp’s team said Heard put on a ‘spectacle’
Camille Vasquez, on Depp’s behalf, said Heard’s claims were “false” and “defamatory” and that she put on a “performance” in court to play “the role of her life as a heroic survivor of brutal abuse.”
“She told you what she thinks you need to hear to find this man guilty of domestic violence and a rapist,” Ms. Vasquez said.
Depp’s team stated that the evidence of abuse presented by Heard’s team was inconsequential or possibly manipulated. And the lawyers of the star asked why there are no medical documents if the violence is repeated one after another.
Ms. Vasquez also said that “no woman” before Heard had ever claimed that Depp was abusive.
One of Depp’s other lawyers went for the jugular.
“Now you’ve found out the real Amber Heard: it’s scary,” Benjamin Chu told jurors.
Heard counter-sued, seeking $100 million (A$134 million) and alleging that she had been subjected to “rampant physical abuse and abuse” by Depp, but was defamed when allegations were made that she had fabricated the charges.
Hurd does not claim that Depp himself publicly slandered her. But she claimed that his former lawyer was, in fact, acting on his instructions when he told the newspaper that her allegations of abuse were a “hoax”.
The allegations, bloody photographs, images of smashed-up apartments and abusive texts made headlines in this case.
But Depp’s victory will likely depend on something much simpler: just 12 short words in one sentence.
– With Megan Palin.