The legal teams for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard have only one more week to prove their respective clients’ former spouses defamed them in what has been an alternately disturbing and surreal civil trial in Virginia.
Over the last five weeks, Fairfax County jurors have heard damning allegations of domestic violence and damaged acting careers. Depp, in his $50 million lawsuit, alleged Heard “devastated” his career when she penned a 2018 Washington Post op-ed. In the piece, which did not mention Depp by name but came two years after she sought a restraining order against him, Heard identified herself as a domestic violence survivor.
In her own $100 million counter lawsuit, Heard alleges that Depp and his legal team defamed her by launching a “smear” campaign against her, which included calling her allegations an “abuse hoax.”
Throughout the trial, both actors have insisted that they were victims of domestic abuse during a relationship that officially dissolved in 2017—and denied any wrongdoing of their own. To prove his point, Depp brought in a slew of witnesses to argue that the Pirates of the Caribbean actor was abused by his ex-wife and that he was effectively deprived of millions in work in the aftermath of Heard’s op-ed.
“There were arguments, and things of that nature, but never did myself reach the point of striking Ms. Heard in any way, nor have I struck anyone in my life,” Depp told the jury while he was on the stand.
But last week, it was Heard’s turn to present witnesses to corroborate her allegations that Depp was the abuser in their relationship, that he was driven to violence in the throes of addiction, and that his financial woes began long before she advocated for survivors.
“In the civil arena, the average litigant is seeking money to compensate them for wrongdoing,” Alan Holcomb, a Georgia trial lawyer, told The Daily Beast. “Here, if evidence shows that Mr. Depp had significant financial issues prior to Ms. Heard’s op-ed, then a jury can take that into account in determining whether Mr. Depp is entitled to in compensation, and if so, how much compensation he is entitled to.”
Heard’s witnesses last week offered what experts described as compelling testimony to back up her claims of being sexually and physically assaulted—and poke holes in Depp’s version of history. These are the key moments and patterns of behavior that his team will now try to refute or at least leave in the rearview if they hope to win.
The London Fields Body-Double Incident
Amber Heard spent two days on the stand last week describing how a relationship she thought was a fairytale quickly dissolved after Depp repeatedly verbally and physically attacked her. One of those instances, Heard claimed, was when the pair were watching a pre-release version of London Fields, a 2018 film she did with Billy Bob Thornton, at a remote French chateau.
Suddenly, Heard testified, Depp slapped her across the face and punched her in the jaw in a blind rage after a woman that appeared to be her participated in a sex scene. But that woman was a body double, not Heard, the actress said.
“I did not actually film the scene. He demanded that we watch it,” Heard recalled on the stand. “So I have an incredibly jealous man who is already upset with me for breaking the ‘rule’ about participating in a sex scene. He was irate. He called me a liar and a whore.”
Kimberly Lau, a New York defamation lawyer, noted to The Daily Beast that this instance is a prime example of Heard’s claims that Depp was abusing her, and the more instances she can cite of alleged abuse, the better her argument will be.
Heard’s allegations were only bolstered by testimony from Depp’s former agent, Tracy Jacobs, who said via video deposition that the actor’s disdain for the film was so severe that he even tried to shut down production. Jacobs, who was Depp’s agent for about three decades, told jurors that she remembered that the request came in a series of angry emails about Heard’s character’s nude scenes in the film.
“It is in Amber’s contract that there will be no nudity and her fucking agents are weak and insipid,” Depp wrote in one email to Jacobs, which was shown in court. “Will you please call these motherfuckers and you and Jake get on this immediately?”
In a second email shown to jurors, Depp added: “It must be shut down or I will sue them eighteen ways from fucking Sunday. These people are nobodies in this business and they should be made to understand that we will ruin them instantly.”
Holcomb, a Georgia trial lawyer, said Depp’s lawyers will likely focus on the “body double and erratic behavior during closing arguments.”
“Testimony regarding either topic goes to the heart of Mr. Depp’s defamation claim,” he said. “He has to prove that Ms. Heard made defamatory statements against him. A statement rises to that level if it is both false and intended to harm the reputation of another. The truth, however, is a complete defense to defamation.
“As a result, these violent stories—if credible to the jury—cut against Mr. Depp’s claims. We can expect the closing argument for Mr. Depp to undermine the veracity of these allegations.”
The Staircase Incident
While several of Heard’s former friends confirmed they saw Depp verbally berate the actress and saw her with injuries, the only person to testify they saw the actor physically harm his ex-wife was her sister, Whitney Henriquez.
On the stand last week, Henriquez testified that she witnessed a fight between Heard and Depp on March 23, 2015, after Heard came into her room to allege that her then-husband was cheating on her. Explaining to jurors that she lived in the penthouse next door to the couple in Los Angeles, Henriquez said that she went into her sister’s house to speak with Depp—who denied the affair before admitting that if he was cheating on his wife, “Amber made me do it.”
“I’m at the back of the stairs, with my back to the stairs, and that’s when Johnny runs up the stairs,” Henriquez said about the incident. “And again, I’m facing Amber. He comes up behind me and strikes me in the back… He hits me in the back. I hear Amber yell, ‘Don’t hit my fucking sister.’”
“By that time, Johnny had already grabbed Amber by the hair with one hand and was whacking her repeatedly in the face with the other while I was standing there,” Henriquez said, adding that Depp’s security guard broke the couple apart before she escorted Heard back to her penthouse.
As they left, Henriquez said she could hear Depp calling them vulgar names, and “screaming like an animal.”
Heard has previously admitted to hitting Depp during the same incident, though she said she did so to protect her sister.
Soon after the fight, Henriquez—who admitted to doing cocaine with Depp on multiple occasions—said she left the penthouses the actor owned in Los Angeles after he asked her to sign an NDA. Depp later accused her of selling stories about him to the press, which Henriquez adamantly denied on the stand.
But Travis McGivern, Depp’s still-employed security guard who testified on the actor’s behalf, provided a different account of the incident earlier in the trial. According to McGivern, the “relatively peaceful conversation” devolved after Heard threw a Red Bull can at Depp, prompting a “verbal onslaught [that] continued from both of them."
“Mr. Depp was giving as good as he got at that point,” McGivern said, adding that Heard tried to spit on the actor. “He was angry and agitated.”
“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a fist and an arm come across my right shoulder and I heard and saw a closed fist contact Mr. Depp in the left side of his face. That was Ms. Heard's fist,” McGivern added, noting that he escorted Depp out of the apartment for his “safety.”
For Manny Arora, a criminal defense attorney who is currently representing Anna Delvey, the conflicting, detailed stories about the staircase incident will force jurors to simply decide whom they find more believable: Heard’s sister or Depp’s current bodyguard.
“This whole issue is based on credibility,” he told The Daily Beast.
The Extent of Depp’s Drug Abuse and Erratic Behavior
While Depp was on the stand, the actor openly admitted that he had struggled with drugs in the past—yet also claimed that he never used drugs to “party” in his life. But testimony from several of Heard’s witnesses last week painted a picture of a troubled lifestyle defined in some moments by wanton substance misuse.
Their testimony mirrored that of Heard, who said drugs and alcohol—and paranoid jealousy—were key factors in turning her husband into a “monster” that made her fear for her life. She said that during their relationship, Depp once sexually assaulted her while performing a “cavity search” in her vagina for cocaine and that he even used hard-to-obtain drugs like quaaludes. In another harrowing instance, Heard said Depp repeatedly penetrated her with a liquor bottle during a three-day bender on a 2015 trip to Australia
“He’s just a jealous man,” testified actress Ellen Barkin, who spoke via video deposition about her brief relationship with Depp that included getting a wine bottle tossed in her direction. “Controlling…. I had a scratch on my back once that got him very, very angry, because he insisted it came from me having sex with a person who wasn’t him.”
Bruce Witkin, a former longtime friend and bandmate of Depp’s, also said in a video deposition that Depp’s substance abuse was so severe that he recommended that the actor go to therapy and get sober. He claimed that he saw Depp do cocaine a few times, including with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. In terms of Depp’s romantic relationships, Witkin said that sometimes the actor had a “jealous streak,” once getting envious of Nicolas Cage and Adam Ant for knowing his former wife.
“In my experience, it’s deep-rooted issues he’s dealing with,” Witkin, who also said he saw bruises on Heard’s arm, added. "It had nothing to do with Amber, in my opinion.”
Heard’s sister also testified about witnessing Depp hurl a steak knife at his assistant after a 2013 flight to London—and said she saw him consume a ziplock bag full of mystery pills “to see what would happen.”
“He laughed about it,” Henriquez said about the drugs, adding that Depp was known to partake in cocaine, weed, MDMA, and shrooms. “If he was using or if he was drinking, there was almost always a fight.… He would be sober for a little bit, and then almost just as quickly fall off the wagon.”
Henriquez corroborated some of Heard’s claims, including that Depp held one of his Yorkies, Boo, out of a moving car while everyone in the vehicle froze in fear. Depp has denied the allegation, calling the dog incident “an absolute utter falsity.”
“I’m surprised Henriquez was allowed to testify to what seems to amount to bad character evidence,” Lau said. “Generally, testimony about specific acts of one’s reputation for bad character are not allowed in civil trials. But since it was allowed without objection, it could go to Depp’s asserted reputational harm, which is at issue for purposes of his damages.”
Depp’s Career and Money Woes Prior to the Op-Ed
The testimony that arguably spoke most directly to the crux of Depp’s defamation suit, however, came in the form of new details from the actor’s exiled inner circle about money woes that preceded any of the allegations of abuse from Heard—and her 2018 op-ed.
Jacobs, Depp’s former long-time talent agent, said that while her client was once the “the biggest star in the world,” his shine “dimmed” because of his “unprofessional behavior on set.” She claimed that his behavior included being unprepared for work—which resulted in him needing an earpiece to be fed his lines—in addition to alcohol and drug problems.
“I would get yelled at. I never said to him, ‘You’re a difficult client.’ But I was very honest with him and said you’ve got to stop doing this, it’s hurting you. And it did,” she said.
The agent added that since the film industry is a “small community” and “people talk,” Depp’s poor reputation eventually took a toll.
Depp’s legal team has previously claimed that Disney dropped the actor from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise just four days after Heard’s op-ed was published and that the piece was the reason why. Tina Newman, a production executive at Walt Disney Studios, said via video deposition that she never saw any documents within the company that referred to Heard’s op-ed—and that it never played a role in their decisions around Depp.
Jacobs said she was ultimately fired in 2016, noting that Depp “terminated essentially everyone in his life, and I was along for the ride, I guess.”
Joel Mandel, Depp’s former business manager who sat for a video deposition for Heard’s team under subpoena, also testified about how the actor’s lavish lifestyle grew as he landed big roles—and was, therefore, harder to sustain when he stopped getting them. He said that at one point, Depp spent $10,000 a day on his personal security guard—and spent the same amount monthly on nurses and doctors dedicated to his recovery.
“The spending levels had grown very, very, very large, and required that level of incredibly high income to be maintained,” Mandel said. “And when it dropped off, that disconnect became untenable.”
Eventually, Mandel said, it became difficult to even talk to Depp about his money problems.
“His financial circumstances in 2015 had reached a point where I was extremely concerned and on a very regular basis was expressing that concern,” Mandel said. “And it seemed as I increased my level of expressing that concern, there was anger directed, you know, in my direction. And so, my warnings in 2015 that we were in very dire circumstances were not met very favorably."
Lau, the defamation lawyer, noted that this testimony “clearly goes to reputational harm and damages” and it will also be something that Depp’s team focuses on as it attempts to rebound from some tough testimony.
“Depp has placed his reputation, including his reputation before Heard’s op-ed, at issue in this case by asserting his reputation has been damaged by at least $40 [million] due to Heard’s op-ed,” she added. “If Heard is successful in showing that Depp’s reputation had declined prior to her op-ed, a jury may reduce any damages award even if it determines Heard is liable for defamation.”
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