Allegations flew back and forth in a Virginia courthouse on Tuesday (April 12) as lawyers for Johnny Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard delivered opening statements in a $50m defamation trial.
Depp is suing Heard over a 2018 op-ed she wrote about domestic abuse in The Washington Post which he claims damaged his reputation and career. While the 2018 article did not mention Depp by name, the Hollywood star’s attorney Benjamin Chew said it contained statements “that falsely and unfairly cast Mr Depp as a villain, a man who would violently abuse a woman” and publication was timed to further Heard’s career coming as it did on the eve of the release of Aquaman, in which she had a significant role.
Heard’s attorney J. Benjamin Rottenborn said the question for the jury to consider was whether the article, titled “I Spoke Up Against Sexual Violence — And Faced Our Culture’s Wrath. That Has To Change”, was protected free speech under the First Amendment.
Fellow defence attorney Eliane Bredehoft told the court that when the couple met and fell in love while working on The Rum Diary Heard “loved the side of Johnny that we see in the movies – the charismatic one, the charming one, the generous one – that’s the man she fell in love with”.
“But sadly,” Bredehoft continued, “the monster came in the way and that monster came out when he was drinking and when he would take the drugs.” The attorney painted a picture of a violent, jealous man who in one string of events during a trip to Australia in 2015 hit Heard, dragged her across the floor, urinated around the place they were staying in and daubed it with obscene messages.
The attorney conceded Heard threw a bottle at Depp but said Depp’s severed finger resulted from self-harm and not from the projectile.
Depp’s legal team must prove Heard used words in the op-ed article that were about their client and were false. Chew noted a line in the December 18 2018 Post article that read, “Two years ago I became a public figure representing domestic abuse.” The attorney said while Heard did not identify Depp by name it was a reference to him because two years prior to the article’s publication she publicly accused him of domestic abuse (on May 27, 2016).
Cast doubt over the authenticity of marks on Heard’s face when she appeared in court in 2016 to file a restraining order six days after she left Depp after he requested a divorce, and noted how nobody had previously accused Depp of violence in a relationship.
“By choosing to lie about her husband for her own personal benefit Amber Heard forever changed Mr Depp’s life and reputation,” Chew said, adding: “A false allegation can devastate a career and it can devastate a family. And the evidence will show that Ms. Heard’s false allegations had a significant impact on Mr Depp’s family and his ability to work in a professional he loved and loved to bring joy to everyone.”
Depp lost a 2020 UK defamation case against The Sun newspaper after the red-top described him as a “wife beater”. As a result of his legal entanglements and the allegations of abuse he left the Pirates Of The Caribbean and Fantastic Beasts franchises. His last release film was Minamata in 2020.
The Virginia trial is expected to run for five to six weeks.