FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) – After a six-week trial, a Virginia civil jury spent about 12 hours over three days deliberating defamation claims by Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard. The jury on Wednesday afternoon has awarded Depp more than $10 million in damageswhile noting that Heard’s counterclaim had merit as well, and awarding her $2 million in damages.
The trial included lurid testimonies with explicit details about the film stars’ short and volatile marriage. But what was the case really about? And what did the jury have to decide?:
Depp filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit against Heard, alleging that a In 2018 she wrote in the Washington Post damaged his reputation and hurt his career. In the article, Heard described himself as “a public figure representing domestic violence.” Depp was not mentioned by name in the article, but his attorneys argued that it was clear she was referring to Depp since she publicly accused him of domestic violence during her 2016 divorce proceedings. Heard’s attorneys said most of the article focuses on public policy regarding domestic violence and that she has a First Amendment right to speak out on the issue. They also claim that Depp did in fact abuse Heard.
During the trial, Heard detailed more than a dozen specific instances where she said Depp abused her, including her allegation that he sexually assaulted her with a liquor bottle in a alcohol fueled anger. Depp denied any physical or sexual abuse and says Heard fabricated the claims to tarnish his reputation. He has also claimed that she physically assaulted him on multiple occasions.
THE JOB OF THE JURY
The seven-member jury had to decide whether two passages and the title of the article were defamatory. The jury verdict form gave the jurors instructions on how to determine this, including whether the statements about Depp were false and had a defamatory implication about him. Because Depp is a public figure, the jury had to conclude that Heard acted with “actual malice” to find that she committed libel, meaning she either knew what she was doing wrote was wrong, or that she acted in reckless disregard of the truth.
The jury ruled in favor of Depp on all three counts, finding that she had in fact acted with actual malice. Heard’s attorneys told the jury that if Heard suffered even a single incident of abuse, Depp’s defamation suit would have to fail.
Heard filed a $100 million counterclaim against Depp after his former attorney called their allegations a hoax. The counterclaim received less attention during the trial, but Heard’s attorney told jurors it would provide the jury with a way to compensate Heard for the abuse Depp inflicted on her by organizing a smear campaign after they broke up.
The jury verdict form asked the jury to determine whether Depp’s former attorney, who acted as Depp’s agent, made or released three statements about Heard were false and seen by someone other than Heard. The jury also had to decide whether Depp’s attorney made the statements with actual malice. The jury found that one of those statements defamed Heard, in which the attorney claimed she and her friends “spilled a little wine and roughed up the place, clarified their stories,” and called the police.
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