Johnny Depp wins a credibility war against Amber Heard

In his opening statement, Amber Heard’s attorney warned the jury that Johnny Depp’s attorneys were trying to turn his Virginia libel trial into a soap opera. Attorney Ben Rottenborn said the case isn’t about “who you like more” or “which party can throw more dirt.” Instead, he said it was about the evidence and the law and whether Depp could meet his legal obligation to show that Heard had defamed him.

“He can’t get close to that,” predicted Rottenborn. “The evidence isn’t pretty for Mr. Depp.”

Seven weeks later, however, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Depp. The seven jurors found through “clear and compelling” evidence that Heard lied about him when she wrote a 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post describing herself as a “public figure who represents domestic violence.” . They also ruled in Heard’s favor on one of three counterclaims, but the overall result was a lopsided win for Depp. Depp was awarded $15 million – reduced to $10.35 million under Virginia’s punitive damages ceiling – while Heard was awarded only $2 million.

“What the jury said was, ‘You both did terrible things,'” said Lawrence McClafferty, a trial attorney from Fairfax, Virginia. “But her view is that what she did is an order of magnitude worse.”

As Rottenborn had predicted, the evidence was not pretty for either side. Jurors were shown text messages in which Depp called her a “cunt” and a “filthy whore” and said he wanted to drown her and then “fuck her burned corpse to make sure she’s dead.” They heard testimonies about Depp’s drug abuse, saw images of both actors with bruises on their faces – each saying they were the result of beatings on the other – and vandalized apartments and tenements, and heard audio recordings of intimate and violent altercations never released to the public consumption determined.

In 2020, Judge Andrew Nicol reviewed much of the same evidence in the UK and found in Heard’s favour, noting that her allegations were “essentially true”.

But in Virginia, the jury was more confident in Depp’s account. In four days of testimony, Depp told the jury that while he and Heard had argued and sometimes expressed “black humor,” he had never hit her and would never hit a woman.

“It’s insane to hear heinous allegations of violence – sexual violence – attributed to her,” Depp said at the booth last week. “No human being is perfect. Certainly not. None of us. But I have never committed sexual abuse or physical abuse in my life.”

Lawyers prosecuting the case said the outcome largely came down to which of the two actors seemed more trustworthy, and that turned out to be a dork.

“Never underestimate the star power in a courtroom. It’s a long road,” said Dave Ring, a trial attorney in Los Angeles. “I don’t care what the law is, what the facts are. When you have a popular celebrity in the courtroom, that person wins 95% of the time. Look at all his flaws and bad behavior – the jury didn’t seem to mind at all.

Mitra Ahouraian, a Los Angeles attorney who has commented on the case for Law & Crime, said the jury appeared to agree with viewers who watched the trial online – the overwhelming majority of whom sided with Depp and found Heard’s account of often gruesome abuse as implausible.

“It’s her behavior more than anything,” Ahouraian said, noting that Heard seemed to cry at odd moments as she recounted events that happened many years ago. “We have an intuitive feeling that she wasn’t being honest.”

She said that Depp, in contrast, appeared “authentic” and “natural” and was well accepting of his flaws.

“That made him believable,” she said. “He came across as he is.”

Valentina Shaknes, a New York-based attorney, said she too found Depp more genuine and credible than Heard. However, she acknowledged that there is an element of performance involved.

“You have two movie stars,” she said. “It’s a competition to see who’s the better actor. Each accused the other of putting on the show of a lifetime. Is that a judgment on your acting skills?”

She noted that Rottenborn’s comment in his opening statement, saying it wasn’t about which party the jury liked more, shows that “they are deeply aware that this is a popularity contest.”

Many observers predicted that the jury would find both parties so repugnant that they would award neither side anything. But the verdict — specifically the $5 million punitive damages award for Depp — showed they were far more hostile to Heard.

“The jury didn’t like Amber Heard,” Ring said. “They didn’t like what she was doing. They didn’t like the version of themselves that brought them to court. And Johnny Depp clearly won.” Johnny Depp wins a credibility war against Amber Heard

Charles Jones

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