In Depth

Depp v. Heard: what the latest battle has revealed

Hollywood stars back in court after break in second libel case

Amber Heard returned to the stand on Monday as the libel trial launched by her ex-husband Johnny Depp resumed after a one-week break.

The film star, who is suing Heard over a newspaper article she wrote in which she claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse, spent four days on the stand himself, arguing that he was in fact the victim of the relationship.

Other witnesses giving evidence for Depp at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia have included a psychologist, his security guards and talent agent.

Heard begun “to hit back with her side of the story” at the start of May, said Sky News, with yesterday marking her third day of testimony.

Here is what the jury has heard so far, and the background to the case.

Depp scrawled messages in blood

Jurors were shown messages and “reminders” that Depp scrawled in blood after his finger was severed in a fight on 7 March 2015, said the New York Post. He claimed Heard threw a vodka bottle at him while they were living on an island in Australia during the filming of the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

He told the court: “It was all getting too crazy.” Believing himself to be in the middle of something like a nervous breakdown, Depp said he started “to write in my own blood on the walls”.

Depp warned of violence

Jurors were played an audio recording in which Depp appeared to warn Heard of violence if their arguments escalated, reported The Guardian.

“The next move, if I don’t walk away… it’s going to be a bloodbath, like it was on the island,” Depp said on the recording. The actor could also be heard shouting “Shut up, fat a**” after Heard told him to “put your cigarettes out on someone else! You f***ing have consequences for your actions!”

Heard accused of ‘histrionic’ disorder

Heard suffered from “histrionic and borderline personality disorders” and “grossly exaggerated symptoms of PTSD”, according to a clinical and forensic psychologist hired by Depp.

Dr Shannon Curry told the court she was approached by Depp’s legal team to determine whether there was evidence of “intimate partner violence” within the relationship, and was later asked to complete “a psychological evaluation” of the actress, said the Daily Mail.

Johnny Depp talks to his attorney

Johnny Depp talks to his attorney

Brendan Smialowski/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Actor passed out in front of son

Depp once passed out drunk in front of his son on a beach, reported Metro. Tara Roberts, a manager on Depp’s private island in the Bahamas, testified that in 2013, she recalled Depp passing out face first in the sand. She said he had fallen asleep in a hammock and the hammock overturned in front of his son, Jack.

Heard ‘has PTSD from abuse’

The first defence witness was an expert psychologist, Dr Dawn Hughes, who said Heard suffered PTSD as a result of being physically and sexually abused by Depp. Proceedings took a “darker turn”, as Hughes gave graphic descriptions of the alleged abuse recounted to her during the 29 hours she spent evaluating Heard, reported Sky News.

Hughes believed the violence stemmed from Depp’s “obsessive jealousy”. “He insisted she avoid nude scenes, criticised her ambition and accused the actress of having affairs with co-stars such as Billy Bob Thornton and James Franco,” reported Sky. “He would also call her co-stars or directors and tell them he ‘had eyes’ on set, the court was told.”

Multiple allegations of abuse

Taking the stand for two days earlier this month, Heard “alleged Depp hit and abused her many times, her testimony often turning graphic”, reported CBS News. “She also spoke about how they initially met and how their relationship unfolded.” 

She described Depp as “the love of my life” but also said he was “this other thing” that was “awful”, particularly when he drank or took drugs. She claimed they went through cycles of him “getting clean and sober” but that he would fall off the wagon again.

On one occasion, during a family holiday on a yacht, he told her he could “f***ing kill” her after he thought she had told his children he was “a drunk”, she told the court. In another incident, she alleged Depp did a “cavity search” on her because he thought she was hiding his cocaine.

Bruises, bowels and the $7m charity donation

Yesterday, Heard admitted that she had not donated her $7m divorce settlement to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a children’s hospital in Los Angeles, despite previously saying she had done so under oath. She suggested that if Depp had not sued her she would have been able to pay the money and intends to honour her pledge.

During an “extended block of questioning”, Heard also “offered a lengthy explanation of their dog Boo’s bowel movements, in an effort to deny that after the fight on the night of her birthday, she or one of her friends defecated in their bed”, said Vanity Fair. “This has become one of the focal points in a sprawling case of alleged mutual abuse,” explained the magazine. 

Heard has alleged that Depp threw a phone at her face in May 2016 at their Los Angeles penthouse. The jury was shown “photos of different angles and different lighting of what Heard said was her face after the incident, which showed a red mark on her cheek and a bruise near her eye”, said the Washington Post.

The background 

Depp and Heard began a relationship in 2011 after shooting The Rum Diary, said The Hollywood Reporter. They married in 2015, but just 15 months later Heard filed for divorce and obtained a temporary restraining order against Depp, “accusing him of hitting her”.

Speaking to Associated Press at the time, Heard said that she had “endured excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse” from her ex-husband, including having a mobile phone thrown at her face with “extreme force”. Depp denied the abuse.

Before the trial over the restraining order could begin, however, the pair issued a joint statement that said: “Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”

Heard won a $7m settlement in the subsequent divorce proceedings, which she pledged to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union. But Depp’s team “now disputes” that the money was ever donated, said the BBC. 

Then, in 2018, Depp sued The Sun newspaper for libel over an article that referred to him as a “wife beater”. He ultimately lost the trial, with a British judge ruling that the “great majority” of Heard’s accusations of abuse could be proven to the civil standard, which means “the abuse was more likely than not to have occurred”, explained the broadcaster. 

The actor claimed that after losing the case he “was forced to stand down” from the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, with Mads Mikkelsen later replacing him as Gellert Grindelwald, while further film roles appear to have “dried up” for the one-time superstar actor, whose last film, Minamata, was released in 2020, said Sky News.

The latest lawsuit

In December 2018, at what was the “height” of the #MeToo movement, Heard published an opinion piece in The Washington Post, “calling out societal norms that prop up domestic abusers and knock down their victims”, said The Hollywood Reporter. In the article, she repeated claims made two years previously about suffering abuse earlier in her life, but did not explicitly name Depp.

Depp was dropped from his leading role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise just four days after the piece ran, and subsequently sued Heard for $50m two months later, accusing her of defaming him by describing herself as a domestic abuse survivor. Heard has filed a $100m counterclaim alleging Depp had “coordinated a campaign aimed at smearing her”. 

The televised trial is taking place in Virginia, the state in which The Washington Post’s offices are situated, and is expected to last around seven to eight weeks. Heard is expected to take the stand imminently.

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