Johnny Depp, left, and Amber Heard in the courtroom for closing arguments at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax. Photo /AP / Steve Helber
A jury has ruled overwhelmingly in favour of Johnny Depp in his libel lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard, vindicating his stance that Heard fabricated claims that she was abused by Depp before and during their brief marriage.
The jury also found in favour of Heard, who said she was defamed by Depp's lawyer when he called her abuse allegations a hoax.
Jury members found Depp should be awarded US$15 million ($22.5m) in damages, while Heard should receive US$2 million ($3m).
The jury found Heard had acted with malice in writing an article for the Washington Post in 2018, describing herself as "a public figure representing domestic abuse". Depp's lawyers said he was defamed by the article even though it never mentioned his name.
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Breaking down the maths of the damages
The jury ruled that Heard defamed Depp in all three of the actor's claims. They awarded him US$10 million ($15m) in damages and US$5m ($7.5m) in punitive damages.
Judge Penny Azcarate informed the court that state law limits punitive damages to US$350,000 ($550,000), meaning Depp was awarded a total of US$10.35 million.
The jurors also said Depp defamed Heard in just one of her three claims, awarding her US$2m ($3.1m) in damages and no money in punitive damages.
Subtracting Heard's award from Depp's total, the Pirates of the Caribbean star leaves the case with US$8.35m ($12.8m).
Legal expert Dan Abrams described the verdict as a "massive" win for Depp and said he expected Heard would appeal.
In statements shortly after the verdict, Depp said the jury had given him his life back, while Heard, who had been in court, said she was heartbroken.
"Six years ago, my life, the life of my children, the lives of those closest to me, and also, the lives of the people who for many, many years have supported and believed in me were forever changed," said Depp.
"All in the blink of an eye.
"False, very serious and criminal allegations were levied at me via the media, which triggered an endless barrage of hateful content, although no charges were ever brought against me. It had already travelled around the world twice within a nanosecond and it had a seismic impact on my life and my career.
"And six years later, the jury gave me my life back. I am truly humbled."
In her statement, Heard said her disappointment was "beyond words".
"I'm heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband.
"I'm even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously.
"I believe Johnny's attorneys succeeded in getting the jury to overlook the key issue of Freedom of Speech and ignore evidence that was so conclusive that we won in the UK.
"I'm sad I lost this case. But I am sadder still that I seem to have lost a right I thought I had as an American – to speak freely and openly."
The verdicts bring an end to a televised trial that Depp had hoped would help restore his reputation, though it turned into a spectacle of a vicious marriage.
Fans — overwhelmingly on Depp's side — lined up overnight to grab a seat in the courtroom. Spectators who couldn't get in lined up on the street to cheer Depp and jeer Heard whenever either appeared outside.
Depp sued Heard for libel in Fairfax County Circuit Court over the December 2018 op-ed she wrote in the Washington Post.
While the case was ostensibly about libel, most of the testimony focused on whether Heard had been physically and sexually abused, as she claimed. Heard enumerated more than a dozen alleged assaults, including a fight in Australia — where Depp was shooting a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel — in which Depp lost the tip of his middle finger and Heard said she was sexually assaulted with a liquor bottle.
Depp said he never hit Heard and that she was the abuser, though Heard's attorneys highlighted years-old text messages Depp sent apologising to Heard for his behaviour as well as profane texts he sent to a friend in which Depp said he wanted to kill Heard and defile her dead body.
In today's statement, following the verdict, Depp said he had given considerable thought to pursuing the case, "knowing very well the height of the legal hurdles that I would be facing and the inevitable, worldwide spectacle into my life".
"From the very beginning, the goal of bringing this case was to reveal the truth, regardless of the outcome. Speaking the truth was something that I owed to my children and to all those who have remained steadfast in their support of me. I feel at peace knowing I have finally accomplished that.
"I am, and have been, overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and the colossal support and kindness from around the world. I hope that my quest to have the truth be told will have helped others, men or women, who have found themselves in my situation, and that those supporting them never give up. I also hope that the position will now return to innocent until proven guilty, both within the courts and in the media.
"I wish to acknowledge the noble work of the Judge, the jurors, the court staff and the Sheriffs who have sacrificed their own time to get to this point, and to my diligent and unwavering legal team who did an extraordinary job in helping me to share the truth.
"The best is yet to come and a new chapter has finally begun."
He signed off his statement with "Veritas numquam perit. Truth never perishes."
In some ways, the trial was a replay of a lawsuit Depp filed in the United Kingdom against a British tabloid after he was described as a "wife beater". The judge in that case ruled in the newspaper's favour after finding that Heard was telling the truth in her descriptions of abuse.
In the Virginia case, Depp had to prove not only that he never assaulted Heard, but that Heard's article — which focused primarily on public policy related to domestic violence — defamed him. He also had to prove that Heard wrote the article with actual malice. And to claim damages he had to prove that her article caused the damage to his reputation as opposed to any number of articles before and after Heard's piece that detailed the allegations against him.
Depp, in his final testimony to the jury, said the trial gave him a chance to clear his name in a way that the UK trial never allowed.
"No matter what happens, I did get here and I did tell the truth and I have spoken up for what I've been carrying on my back, reluctantly, for six years." Depp said.
Heard, on the other hand, said the trial has been an ordeal inflicted by an orchestrated smear campaign led by Depp.
"Johnny promised me — promised me — that he'd ruin my life, that he'd ruin my career. He'd take my life from me," Heard said in her final testimony.
The case captivated millions through its gavel-to-gavel television coverage and impassioned followers on social media who dissected everything from the actors' mannerisms to the possible symbolism of what they were wearing. Both performers emerge from the trial with reputations in tatters with unclear prospects for their careers.
Eric Rose, a crisis management and communications expert in Los Angeles, called the trial a "classic murder-suicide".
"From a reputation management perspective, there can be no winners," he said. "They've bloodied each other up. It becomes more difficult now for studios to hire either actor because you're potentially alienating a large segment of your audience who may not like the fact that you have retained either Johnny or Amber for a specific project because feelings are so strong now."
Depp, a three-time best actor Oscar nominee, had until recent years been a bankable star. His turn as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean film helped turn it into a global franchise, but he's lost that role. (Heard and Depp's teams each blame the other.) He was also replaced as the title character in the third Fantastic Beasts spin-off film, The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Despite testimony at the trial that he could be violent, abusive and out of control, Depp received a standing ovation Tuesday night in London after performing for about 40 minutes with Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall. He has previously toured with Joe Perry and Alice Cooper as the group Hollywood Vampires.
Heard's acting career has been more modest, and her only two upcoming roles are in a small film and the upcoming Aquaman sequel due out next year.
Depp's lawyers fought to keep the case in Virginia, in part because state law provided some legal advantages compared with California, where the two reside. A judge ruled that Virginia was an acceptable forum for the case because the Washington Post's printing presses and online servers are in the county.
Depp's lawyers react
"Today's verdict has confirmed what we have said from the beginning, that the claims against Johnny Depp are defamatory," said Depp's lawyer, Camille Vasquez.
She said they were grateful for today's verdict.
"It's time to turn the page and look to the future," said fellow lawyer Ben Chew.
Vasquez said claims against Depp were unsupported by any evidence and the verdict proved that.
"Our judicial system is predicated on each person's right to have his or her case heard and we were truly honoured to assist Mr Depp in ensuring his case was fairly considered through the trial," said Chew.
"We are also most pleased that the trial has resonated for so many in the public who value truth and justice."