Johnny Depp won a defamation suit Wednesday against his former wife Amber Heard after a jury found that she had defamed Depp in saying that he had abused her over the course of their relationship.Depp, who was not in court Wednesday due to a previously scheduled work commitment, sued for $50 million in damages over a 2018 opinion-editorial essay by Heard in The Washington Post, in which she said she had become a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Although the essay never mentioned Depp by name, his attorneys said it indirectly referred to allegations she made against him during their 2016 divorce.
The jury unanimously found that Heard could not substantiate her allegations against Depp and that she knew her claims of abuse were false when she published her 2018 essay.The jury determined that Heard acted with actual malice when writing her op-ed. The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages in his defamation suit.Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Penney Azcarate reduced the punitive damages the jury awarded to Depp to $350,000, which is the state’s statutory cap or legal limit, making his total damages $10.4 million. “From the very beginning, the goal of bringing this case was to reveal the truth, regardless of the outcome,” Depp said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”Depp said that “the jury gave me my life back. I am truly humbled.”
Heard had countersued for $100 million and said she was only ever violent with Depp in self-defense or defense of her younger sister. Heard’s countersuit centered around three statements made by Depp’s former attorney Adam Waldman in 2020 to the Daily Mail, in which he described Heard’s allegations of abuse as a “hoax.”The jury found that Depp, through Waldman, defamed Heard on one count. The jury awarded Heard $2 million in compensatory damages but $0 in punitive damages.The panel, which began deliberations Friday, came to its decision after approximately 13 hours over the course of three days. The high-profile trial, which took place over about six weeks in Fairfax County, Virginia, was broadcast across the country and drew numerous headlines.Defamation claims filed in the U.S. by public figures, such as an actor, are commonly thought of as difficult cases to win due to the higher standard a plaintiff must prove. The Supreme Court ruled in 1964 that defamation suits brought by notable figures must not only prove the claims were false and caused them damage, but that the person who made the defamatory statement did so with “actual malice.”In a statement Wednesday, 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,” she said. “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.”The jury’s decision marks a legal redemption for Depp, who lost a libel case in the United Kingdom two years ago over allegations that he hit Heard.Depp sued the parent company that owns The Sun and the newspaper’s executive editor for calling him a “wife beater” in 2018. Justice Andrew Nicol ruled against Depp in 2020, saying the British tabloid had presented substantial evidence to show that Depp was violent against Heard on at least 12 of 14 occasions.In her statement Wednesday, Heard said she believes Depp’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.”