What to Know About Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s Defamation Trial

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A high-profile trial involving actors Johnny Depp, 58, and his ex-wife Amber Heard, 36, began April 12 in Fairfax, Va. The trial revolves around a defamation lawsuit Depp filed against Heard in 2019 about an op-ed she wrote about domestic abuse in 2018. Depp says the article irreparably damaged his career.

After 13 days of testimony, Depp’s legal team rested its case on May 3, and Heard testified for the first time on May 4.

The trial, which is set to last six weeks, has already generated headlines about everything from violent text messages sent by Depp to audio recordings of their arguments. This is the second lawsuit involving abuse allegations connected to Depp and Heard’s relationship, following a trial in the U.K. in 2020.

As the trial continues its fourth week, here’s what we know so far.

Why is Johnny Depp suing Amber Heard?

Depp brought a $50 million defamation suit against Heard in March 2019 after she published an op-ed in the Washington Post the previous December. In the article, Heard discussed the treatment of women in sexual assault cases and referred to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse” but did not mention Depp by name. Depp, who said he was dropped from his role in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise just days after the article was published, claims the article caused damage to his career. Depp’s career was already on the rocks following the couple’s publicized breakup and the allegations of abuse that rocketed between them.

The long-postponed trial comes after Depp lost a similar suit accusing News Group Newspapers, the U.K publisher of the tabloid, The Sun of libel in 2020.

Why is Amber Heard suing Johnny Depp?

Heard’s lawyers tried to get Depp’s defamation lawsuit dismissed after he lost the U.K. case, but a judge refused, citing differences in U.K. and U.S. defamation laws and pointing out that Heard was not a defendant in the case against The Sun. Heard then filed a $100 million countersuit against Depp, claiming that he defamed her when his legal team referred to her claims as “fake” and a “sexual violence hoax.” Because Heard’s op-ed was published in the Washington Post, the trial is taking place in Fairfax, Va., where the newspaper is printed.

What did Heard write in the Washington Post op-ed?

In December 2018, Heard published a Washington Post op-ed with the headline “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

In the article, she discussed the public backlash she had received after she “became a public figure representing domestic abuse” in 2016, then advocated for more support for victims of domestic violence.

Though Heard didn’t mention Depp by name, the timeline she described in the piece matched up with the timeline of the couple’s divorce two years prior, in 2016.

Actor Amber Heard listens in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, April 25, 2022.Steve Helber—Getty Images

What to know about The Sun lawsuit

Some of the allegations brought forward in the trial have been heard before, during a 16-day trial in the U.K. in the summer of 2020, as Depp sued The Sun’s publisher for libel over a headline calling him a “wife-beater.” Heard testified in the trial, making 14 allegations of abuse against Depp. Depp denied all of them, but a judge ruled that 12 had been “proved to the civil standard and that The Sun’s headline was “substantially true.”

The timeline of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s relationship

Depp met Heard in 2009, on the set of The Rum Diary, where Heard played the love interest to Depp’s character. During his testimony in Fairfax, Depp described the first moment of connection he felt with Heard, as the two filmed a scene that called for their characters to kiss in the shower.

“That moment, was, it was, it felt like something, it felt like something I should not be feeling,” Depp said, adding that they were both in relationships at the time. “I think there was something in the kiss in the shower that was real.”

The two met again two years later to promote the film, but only began dating once Depp split with his longtime partner Vanessa Paradis, with whom he has two children. Depp and Heard married in 2015. Heard filed for divorce 15 months later, receiving a temporary restraining order against Depp, whom she claimed was abusive toward her. Depp denied the allegations, with his legal team accusing Heard of “alleging abuse” to “secure a premature financial resolution.” After Heard rescinded a request for $50,000 a month in spousal support, they settled out of court, with Heard receiving $7 million. Heard has said she donated the money to charity.

The pair released a joint statement when their divorce was finalized saying, “Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love.”

Jim Watson—Getty Images

Jim Watson—Getty ImagesUS actor Johnny Depp looks on during a hearing at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, on May 3, 2022.

What Johnny Depp said in his testimony

Over days of testimonies, which began on April 19, Depp detailed a childhood filled with verbal and physical abuse, his first encounters with Heard, and how the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise transformed his life.

Both Heard and Depp have accused each other of physical violence, and both have denied the other’s claims. In his testimony, Depp said, “Never did I myself reach the point of striking Ms. Heard in any way nor have I ever struck any woman in my life.” He claimed that Heard was violent toward him, detailing one instance in which his finger was seriously injured after Heard allegedly threw a vodka bottle at him.

During a cross-examination by Heard’s team, Depp was asked about text messages he sent to friends detailing his drug and alcohol use and discussing potential acts of violence against Heard—in one, he referred to her as a “rotting corpse”,He claimed they were only a reflection of his dark humor. “If you’re writing, there is no set place that you have to stay in, you can travel.” he said. “And sometimes pain has to be dealt with with humor—and sometimes dark, very dark humor.”

The actor also discussed how he was dropped from the sixth Pirates of the Caribbean film after the publication of Heard’s op-ed. “I would be a real simpleton to not think that there was an effect on my career based on Ms. Heard’s words, whether they mentioned my name or not,” Depp said.

Actress Amber Heard, left, and her attorney, Ben Rottenborn, right, listen as Jack Whigham, center, talent manager for US actor Johnny Depp, is seen on a monitor as he testifies remotely in the courtroom
Actress Amber Heard, left, and her attorney, Ben Rottenborn, right, listen as Jack Whigham, center, talent manager for US actor Johnny Depp, is seen on a monitor as he testifies remotely in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia, on May 2, 2022.Steve Helber—Pool/AFP/Getty Images

What Amber Heard said in her testimony

Heard took the stand for the first time on May 4, testifying to physical violence in her relationship that she says was fueled by Depp’s abuse of drugs and alcohol. “I struggle to find the words to describe how painful this is,” Heard said as she began her testimony. “This is the most painful and difficult thing I’ve ever gone through, for sure.”

She detailed the secret start of their relationship—during the press tour for The Rum Diary—when she claims Depp showered her with lavish gifts, and its violent turn in 2012, when she says Depp began drinking again after stopping due to a health issue. Heard described the first time Depp allegedly hit her, saying, “I will never forget it. It changed my life.” She said Depp would take a variety of drugs—including ecstasy and cocaine—and often accused her of cheating on him.

Who else has testified?

The first witness was Christi Dembrowski, Depp’s older sister and personal manager, who spoke of the abuse they had faced as children. “I recognized what I felt to be a repeat pattern from his childhood,” Dembrowski said of his relationship with Heard.

The court also Heard from Isaac Baruch, Depp’s childhood friend, who said Depp allowed him to live rent-free in an L.A. penthouse as he focused on his art. He said that, though Depp and Heard lived nearby, he never witnessed any violence between the two, calling Heard’s claims a “malicious lie.”

Depp’s legal team has also called a doctor and nurse who treated him for substance abuse and claim that they witnessed arguments between the couple, but no physical abuse.

The jury heard from Tara Roberts, who manages Depp’s Bahamas Islands estate and described an exchange between Heard and Depp in which Amber told him he was a “washed-up actor” who was “going to die a fat, lonely old man.””You hit me with a can.” Robert said Depp replied. She said during cross examination that she had seen Depp passed out on the beach in a 2013 incident so worrying that the staff arranged for Depp’s two children to leave the island.

Clinical and forensic psychologist Shannon Curry testified that she was hired by Depp’s legal team to conduct a psychological evaluation of Heard last year, resulting in diagnoses of borderline personality disorder and histrionic disorder. Curry said that someone with borderline personality disorder might have a fear of abandonment and make “desperate attempts” to prevent someone from leaving, adding that those with histrionic personality disorders have a drive to be the center of attention.

In the cross-examination, Heard’s lawyer brought up testimonies from other doctors who believed Heard was a victim of domestic violence, and questioned why Curry had dinner and drinks at Depp’s house with the actor’s legal team before she was hired.

Tyler Hadden, one of the LAPD officers who responded to a domestic violence call at the couple’s apartment in May 2016, said Heard showed no sign of injury at the time—six days before she appeared at an LA courthouse with marks on her face as she applied for a temporary restraining order.

“Just because I see a female with pink cheeks and pink eyes doesn’t mean something happened,” he said in a recorded deposition played for jurors Wednesday. Two other officers gave similar testimonies. The jurors also saw bodycam footage, in which Heard could only be seen from a distance.

Heard’s lawyer claimed that she might have covered her injuries with makeup in an attempt to protect Depp, as the officers were asked why they didn’t investigate the claim more thoroughly.

In one surreal deposition, Depp’s witness Alejandro Romero, who worked at the front desk of the building where Depp and Heard lived during their marriage, began driving during his pre-recorded testimony, and appeared to be smoking a vape pen.

“I am just so stressed out because of this, I just don’t want to deal with this anymore. I’m tired. I don’t want to deal with this court case,” he said. “Everybody’s got problems.”

Christian Carino, a talent agent who represented both Depp and Heard, has testified that in his opinion, Heard’s allegations of domestic abuse cost Depp his role in Pirates of the Caribbean’s sixth installment. Though the film’s producer didn’t cite the allegations as reason for Depp’s firing, “It is something within the industry that is understood,” Carino said on the witness stand on April 27.

On April 28, the court began discussing the Washington Post article at the center of the case, hearing from ACLU general counsel and chief operating officer Terence Dougherty. Dougherty said that an ACLU communications strategist had approached Heard’s team about writing the article and described the steps both parties took to preserve Heard’s privacy and avoid violating a non-disclosure agreement that Heard signed in her divorce settlement.

Dougherty also testified about Heard’s pledge to donate half of her $7 million divorce settlement to the ACLU. Heard planned to donate $350,000 a year, but the ACLU has not received a donation since the end of 2018, after which they became aware of Heard’s “financial difficulties.”

Depp’s talent agent Jack Whigham said in his recorded testimony on May 2nd that the agency had negotiated a verbal agreement for Depp to be paid $22.5 million dollars for the sixth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. After the op-ed was published, it became “impossible” for Depp to get a role in a studio film, Whigham said: “It was catastrophic because it was coming from a first-person account.”

Depp’s security guard Travis McGivern said he witnessed “verbal vitriol” and physical violence between the two actors, including an instance in which he claims he saw Heard throw a Red Bull can at Depp.

On May 3, judge Penney Azcarate denied a motion filed by Heard’s attorneys to drop Depp’s defamation case, saying that Depp’s team had provided enough evidence for the case to continue—but did not rule on whether a defamation claim regarding the article’s headline should be dismissed, according to Variety.

Heard’s first witness, clinical and forensic psychologist Dawn Hughes, testified that Heard had PTSD from intimate partner violence—disagreeing with an earlier testimony given by the psychologist hired by Depp’s team, who said Heard showed signs of “gross exaggeration” in her claims of PTSD. Hughes said that her evaluation found “a high degree of serious violence” perpetrated by Depp toward Heard, and a “mild level” perpetrated by Heard towards Depp. Hughes described characteristics of victims of abuse and said that, while Heard did engage in “minor forms of violence,” her actions were not out of character for victims of abuse.

Actress Amber Heard, left, and her attorney, Ben Rottenborn, right, listen as Jack Whigham, center, talent manager for US actor Johnny Depp, is seen on a monitor as he testifies remotely in the courtroom
Actress Amber Heard, left, and her attorney, Ben Rottenborn, right, listen as Jack Whigham, center, talent manager for US actor Johnny Depp, is seen on a monitor as he testifies remotely in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia, on May 2, 2022.Steve Helber—Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Who is expected to testify?

Heard’s potential witness list originally included Elon Musk, whom she reportedly dated, but he is no longer expected to testify. Her list also includes her former co-star James Franco, in whom she allegedly confided.

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Write to Simmone Shah at simmone.shah@time.com