The verdict is in: Amber Heard indeed defamed her ex-husband, Johnny Depp with her 2018 Washington Post op-ed alleging domestic violence. On Wednesday afternoon, after just two and a half days of deliberation, a Fairfax County, Virginia, jury concluded that Heard wrote false statements about Depp, that she deliberately wrote them to damage him, and that she did so with malice. The jury ordered Heard to pay Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive, while Depp was ordered to pay Heard $2 million in compensatory damages only.
The $2 million awarded to Heard was the jury ruling in favor to her claims that Depp’s lawyer, Adam Waldman, had defamed her by calling her abuse allegations a “hoax.”
Judge Penney Azcarate later decreed that, as per Virginia state law, the punitive damages awarded were cut down to $350,000, as that’s the cap on what an injured person suing for punitive damages can recover.
In a statement to Jezebel after the verdict was announced, Heard said:
“The disappointment I feel today is 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.”
A statement issued by Depp on Instagram called the claims levied at him by the media “false, very serious and criminal.” He thanked the jury for giving him his “life back” and insisted that he brought about this case “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,” he emphasized, before adding that he hopes his “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.”
Depp also said that he also said that “the best is yet to come and a new chapter has finally begun.”
After news broke that the verdict would arrive on Wednesday, the multitudes of Depp fans and followers of the trial on TikTok exploded with anticipation. Videos posted mere minutes after reports noted the jury had come to a decision immediately racked up more than 100,000 views. Minutes after the verdict was read, even the official Twitter account for the Republican House Judiciary Committee tweeted a GIF of Depp as Jack Sparrow in celebration.
In the last six weeks, we’ve learned a lot—I’ve argued, entirely too much—in this media circus of a trial about the pair’s time together, with rather weighty and at times bizarre accusations waged from both parties. Sexual assault, physical altercations under the influence of drugs and alcohol, among other forms of intimate partner violence—or “mutual abuse”—have been litigated for an all-too-captive audience. Notably, it also revealed Heard’s team coordinating with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the op-ed at the center of the trial.
The last month and a half’s proceedings have spawned innumerable think-pieces, tacky TikTok trends, and hashtags on Twitter. It’s drawn mockery from the most unlikely corners of the country and the curiosity of spectators willing to pay scalpers for access to the Fairfax, Virginia courtroom. And recently, it’s unearthed startling details, like a coordinated disinformation campaign in an effort to discredit and vilify Heard. Even for those barely paying attention to the proceedings, it seemed impossible not to notice the overwhelming support for Depp long before the verdict was reached.
As jury deliberated since Friday, Heard kept a low profile, while Depp joined two back-to-back gigs with friend and musician, Jeff Beck, in England—even receiving a standing ovation at the famed Royal Albert Hall on Monday. Depp was reportedly at a pub in Newcastle, England, when the verdict was announced on Wednesday.
“Your presence shows where your priorities are. Johnny Depp plays guitar in the UK while Amber Heard waits for a verdict in Virginia. Depp is taking his snickering and lack of seriousness on tour,” a spokesperson for Heard commented to Jezebel.
This is the second defamation trial Depp has called for since the pair divorced. He sued The Sun for libel in 2018, after the publication deemed Depp a “wife beater” on its front page. Depp lost that case, with a judge concluding The Sun’s headline was “substantially true” after evaluating several incidents of Depp’s alleged abuse.
To prove defamation, Depp’s team had to show that Heard’s unnamed inclusion of him in the op-ed was a false statement purporting to be fact and that it caused him direct harm or damages.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved to see this trial come to a close. And yet, witnessing how truly cruel the court of public opinion can be for any self-identifying woman who alleges abuse and assault will leave indelible marks.