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Amber Heard accuses Johnny Depp of sexual assault as defamation trial begins

·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
·6 min read
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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's defamation trial is underway, and while the exes have publicly accused each other of abuse during their tumultuous four year relationship, a jury heard new, shocking claims during opening statements on Tuesday.

Heard's lawyers allege she was sexually abused by Depp on more than one occasion. Elaine Bredehoft, one of the attorney's representing the Aquaman star, claimed Depp penetrated the actress "with a liquor bottle" during a three-day hostage situation in Australia in March 2015. The actors, who are both in court, have very different accounts of the trip, which ended with Depp severing the tip of his finger while he was filming the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Later during her opening statement, Bredehoft accused Depp of sexually assaulting Heard again in the Bahamas in Dec. 2015. The actress will testify about the "verbal, emotional and physical sexual abuse" she allegedly endured during the trial, which is expected to last six weeks.

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in Virginia's Fairfax County Circuit Court on April 12, 2022 for their defamation trial.
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in Virginia's Fairfax County Circuit Court on April 12, 2022 for their defamation trial. (Photos: Getty Images)

Depp is suing Heard for $50 million over a 2018 op-ed she wrote for the Washington Post in which she wrote she's "a public figure representing domestic abuse." The online version was titled, "I Spoke Up Against Sexual Violence — and Faced Our Culture's Wrath. That Has to Change." Although Heard didn't name Depp, his attorneys argue it's clear she was referring to the actor and it has caused "significant impact on Mr. Depp's family and his ability to work." Heard is countersuing her ex-husband for $100 million.

Depp's attorneys, Benjamin Chew and Camille Vasquez, spoke first and preemptively brought up the sexual assault claim, calling the allegation "a lie." Chew declared in court that Heard was "the aggressor in the relationship." He highlighted how the actor's famous exes — including Winona Ryder, Kate Moss and Vanessa Paradis, with whom he shares his two children — have never accused him of abuse. Chew said "the evidence will show" that Heard is lying about being assaulted. Vasquez called Heard "a profoundly troubled person" and claimed images her team intends to show depicting the alleged abuse could be manipulated.

"The only medical report of an injury during their relationship was a severe one sustained by Mr. Depp after an argument shortly after their marriage," Vasquez said, referring to the Australia incident. "[Amber] threw a vodka bottle at him that hit his hand and exploded, severing the end of one of his fingers."

Heard and Depp met filming The Rum Diary and began dating during the press tour in 2011. They split in May 2016 after 15 months of marriage. Depp's team will call witnesses, including LAPD officers, who responded to a disturbance call on May 21, 2016 and will testify they did not "see any of" the alleged "property damage" and that "officers determined there had been no violence and no crime."

However, Heard's team paints a very different picture with attorney Benjamin Rottenborn calling Depp an "obsessed ex-husband hell bent on revenge" during his opening statement, and said this case hinges on the first amendment.

"There's absolutely nothing false about that statement," Rottenborn said, referring to the five words in the op-ed Heard wrote about being a "public figure representing domestic abuse."

"Try as he might to take it away, Amber's free speech gives her the right to say that," Rottenborn continued, adding that Heard suffered "physical, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse... that's the truth."

As for the title of the op-ed, Rottenborn told a jury that while Heard did not write or approve the headline that was posted online, the actress "did suffer sexual violence at the hands of Mr. Depp."

"You will hear in the most graphic and horrifying terms about the violence that she suffered, straight from her," he added.

Rottenborn agreed that Depp's career "is in free fall," but that "it's because of problems [Johnny] created." He said that the actor's "poor choices" brought him to the court room, like "his own refusal to commit to sobriety."

Depp's struggle with substance abuse, which he has not denied, will be a factor during trial as Heard claims many instances of abuse were when he was high or drunk. Bredehoft claims the actor spent $100,000 a month for a concierge doctor that prescribed many medications, and that Depp did drugs like cocaine and ecstasy. Bredehoft claims Depp was drunk and on drugs when he punched and kicked Heard during the Australia incident, dragging the actress across the floor over broken bottles before sexually assaulting her.

Christi Dembrowski, Depp's older sister, was the first witness called to the stand on Tuesday afternoon. She testified about the abuse they endured growing up from their mother, who was allegedly both physically and verbally abusive. Dembrowski said her brother vowed never to be like that. The actor appeared visibly emotional at times during the testimony when his sister talked about their upbringing.

Dembrowski worked as Depp's assistant for years and testified she always booked an extra hotel room when the former couple traveled together, in case the actor needed a place to hide like he did when he was a child.

Dembrowski testified that while she never witnessed any altercation between Depp and Heard, she heard the actress insult the Fantastic Beasts star. "She called him an old, fat man," Dembrowski claimed. Another example she gave was when Heard learned that Dior was interested in having Depp star in a campaign and the actress's reaction was "disbelief and disgust."

"[Dior's] about class and about style — you don't have style," Heard allegedly said, according to Dembrowski.

Heard's lawyers hit back at Dembrowski during cross-examination, arguing that she is invested in Depp's finances as an employee, which have dissipated since abuse allegations. They also tried to establish that Dembrowski knew her brother was off the rails with drugs and alcohol during the couple's relationship, which she denied.

Depp lost a libel lawsuit in 2020 against a U.K. publication that called him a "wife beater." A judge ruled it's "substantially true" the actor abused Heard. This marks the former couple's first showdown in the U.S.