For weeks, millions of people have listened to and seen grim evidence in the Depp-Heard lawsuit. But who wins will come down to something much simpler.
The libel lawsuit involving Johnny Depp and Amber Heard has uncovered a mind-boggling amount of – sometimes grim – detail.
In addition to allegations of physical abuse, jurors and viewers heard allegations of leaked lawyers, broken bottles, blood-stained mirrors, smashed phones and broken promises about donations. We have even heard allegations of feces being left in a bed.
But as the jury retreats to consider their verdict, the whole case – at its core – essentially hinges on just 12 words: “Then two years ago I became a public figure representing domestic violence…”
This sentence – actually just this half-sentence – was published in a major newspaper under the name of Amber Heard.
Heard is being sued by Depp for $50m (A$67m) over it Washington Post editorial.
She didn’t name Depp but her team say it doesn’t matter because the inference is clear – she claims Depp is an aggressor. He claims Heard’s claims are false and cost him lucrative movie roles.
After six weeks of testimony at the Fairfax County Courthouse in Virginia, near Washington DC, the jury has now retired to consider its verdict.
Monday is the Memorial Day holiday in the United States, so the seven men and women won’t see each other again until Tuesday US time.
Potentially, they could reach a verdict that day, early Wednesday in Australia. But the amount of evidence that has been presented means it’s likely it could still take several days.
The newspaper article at the heart of the case
At the heart of the case is an article published under Heard’s name by the Washington Post on December 18, 2018.
The headline read: “I spoke out against sexual violence – and faced the wrath of our culture. This must change.
The article was written in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union for which Heard was an ambassador.
In the article, she says she was “exposed to abuse at a very young age”; that she knew early on that “men have power”; and she had been harassed and sexually assaulted by the time she went to college.
None of this would have landed Heard in court.
But then came this sentence.
“Then, two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic violence, and I felt the full force of our culture’s anger for women speaking out.”
Depp’s legal team said the absence of his name from the article didn’t matter. That’s because, they said, anyone who had followed the couple’s tumultuous relationship would have seen the reference to two years ago and linked it to May 2016 when Heard appeared in a California courthouse and was told. obtained a restraining order against Depp.
During this court appearance, she appeared to have a bruise on her cheek. She also appeared on the cover of a major American magazine dealing with what appeared to be injuries.
Depp denied ever assaulting his former wife and so his legal team said the article was a clear case of Heard defaming him.
British case that preceded this trial
The judge ruled that Depp’s feelings for his wife during their turbulent three-year relationship were summed up in a text where the actor revealed he had “no mercy” for her.
It also concluded that Depp beat Ms Heard 12 out of 14 alleged times – starting in 2013 when he slapped the actor when she made a comment about his tattoo.
But the legal systems in England and the legal system in Virginia are different. And, in the UK, he was suing a publication, not a person.
In Britain, it was up to The sun to prove that Depp assaulted Heard. In the United States, it falls to Depp to refute Heard’s domestic violence allegations.
And for weeks, Depp’s legal team tried to do just that. They questioned the veracity of the bruising images, claimed she had informed gossip website TMZ as part of a campaign to smear Depp and that she – not him – was the real aggressor in their broken relationship.
Heard’s team, on the other hand, tried to establish a pattern of abuse on Depp’s part.
Moss’ testimony did not help Heard
But proving that this pattern kinda peeled off when Depp’s former supermodel girlfriend Kate Moss spoke out in spectacular fashion Last week.
The star’s testimony lasted four minutes during which she denied a rumour, raised in court by Heard, that Depp threw her down a flight of stairs while the former couple were vacationing in Jamaica.
Instead, Moss said, she slipped and Depp actually tended to her and got her medical attention.
“He never pushed me, kicked me or threw me down the stairs,” Moss said.
“If Amber was once abused by Depp, she wins”
But in closing arguments on Friday, Heard’s attorney, Benjamin Rottenborn, reminded the jury that the The burden of proof was on Depp and that he had to show that every case of abuse Heard had accused him of was false.
He pointed out that it must also be proven that the allegations were made maliciously by Heard for Depp to win the civil case.
“If Amber was abused by Mr. Depp even once, then she wins,” Mr. Rottenborn said.
“We’re not just talking about physical abuse, we’re talking about emotional, physical, financial, sexual abuse.
“It’s not about who is the best spouse,” he added.
“It’s not about whether you think Ms Heard may have abused Mr Depp.
“If you think they were both violent towards each other…then Amber wins.”
The Depp team said Heard put on a ‘performance’
Camille Vasquez, for Depp, said Heard’s claims were “false” and “defamatory”, and that she led a “performance” in court to play “the part of her life as a heroic survivor of brutal abuse”.
“She told you what she thinks you need to hear to convict this man of a domestic abuser and rapist,” Ms Vasquez said.
Depp’s team said the evidence of abuse presented by Heard’s team was inconsequential or possibly manipulated. And the star’s lawyers questioned why no medical records existed if there was incident after incident of abuse.
Ms Vasquez also said “no woman” before Heard had ever alleged Depp was violent.
One of Depp’s other attorneys opted for the jugular.
“Now you know the real Amber Heard: it’s scary,” Benjamin Chew told the jury.
Heard countersued, asking for $100m (A$134m) and claiming she had suffered ‘endemic violence and physical abuse’ at the hands of Depp, but was defamed when he had been claimed that she had fabricated the allegations.
Heard does not claim that Depp directly defamed her in public himself. But, she argued, her former lawyer was essentially acting on her instructions when he told a newspaper that her abuse allegations were a “hoax”.
Allegations, gory photographs, images of destroyed apartments and expansive texts have all made headlines in this case.
But if Depp wins, it will likely come down to something much simpler: just 12 short words in a sentence.
– With Megan Palin.
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