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Decoding Johnny Depp's Win Against Amber Heard in Court: What We Just Witnessed and What Happens Next

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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard spent more than a month tearing each other apart in court.

And after less than two days of deliberation, a jury sided with Depp in determining that Heard defamed him when she described herself in a 2018 Washington Post op-Ed as "a public figure representing domestic abuse" who "felt the full force of our culture's wrath for women who speak out."

Depp has always denied abusing his former wife, and during the trial he testified that she was the aggressor in their admittedly tumultuous relationship—which, in turn, Heard denied.

Some people outside the Fairfax County Courthouse cheered after hearing the verdict, according to NBC News. While testimony was ongoing, hopeful spectators had taken to lining up in the wee hours, or even camping out overnight, to secure one of the 100 coveted wristbands handed out daily at 7 a.m. that allowed for a seat in the courtroom. The Washington Post (which was never party to Depp's suit) reported coming across Heard supporters outside during the trial, but found that the majority of people were vocal Depp enthusiasts.

Viral Moments From Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's Defamation Trial

Heard looked downcast as the verdict—which was unanimous—was read in court. The five-man, two-woman jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages (the latter of which Judge Penny Azcarate subsequently reduced to $350,000, the state of Virginia's statutory cap for punitive awards).

At the same time, Heard was also awarded $2 million in compensatory damages in her defamation countersuit, filed initially in response to a former attorney of Depp's telling a media outlet in 2020 that her claims were "fake" and a "sexual violence hoax."

In a statement, the actress said she was "heartbroken" by the decision in Depp's favor, "but sadder still that I seem to have lost a right I thought I had as an American—to speak freely and openly."

A source close to Heard told NBC News hours later that she planned to appeal. E! News has reached out to her attorney.

Amber Heard, Johnny
Win McNamee/Getty Images

"Everyone has an opportunity to challenge the trial," Melissa Lerner, an attorney at Los Angeles-based Lavely & Singer P.C., told E! News of what could ultimately transpire. "There's a series of motions that can be filed depending on what strategy is chosen. I presume it would be Amber's side that would be more incentivized to try to challenge the trial and the outcome."

But the general next step in the proceedings is that "the judgment will be entered by the court and there will be a court order requiring payment of that money," Lerner said. "And essentially, she'll need to comply with that, and if she doesn't then Depp could come back to court and require the court to enforce the judgment."

Depp was not present for the reading of the verdict Wednesday, but according to a source close to the actor he tuned in to watch the finale of this heated drama from the U.K. He flew to England for work after closing arguments concluded last Friday and played two shows this week with guitarist Jeff Beck—including one at Royal Albert Hall attended by ex-girlfriend and plaintiff witness Kate Moss. The model had testified remotely on May 25 that Depp did not push her down some stairs when they were dating in the 1990s.

Johnny Depp's Dating History

"My decision to pursue this case, knowing very well the height of the legal hurdles that I would be facing and the inevitable, worldwide spectacle into my life, was only made after considerable thought," Depp said in a statement after the verdict, in which he expressed gratitude to the jury for giving him back his life six years after his world was "forever changed" by Heard's allegations.

"From the very beginning, the goal of bringing this case was to reveal the truth, regardless of the outcome," he said. "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."

But because Heard was also awarded damages in her defamation claim, Lerner said, "The jury's verdict shows that they weren't just going all one way or all the other. They were being discerning and looking at the facts and really evaluating what occurred between the two."

Johnny Depp
Steve Helber/AP/Shutterstock

Defamation complaints are notoriously hard to win in the United States, especially for public figures.

Depp previously lost the defamation lawsuit he filed in London against U.K. tabloid The Sun objecting to a 2018 article that referred to him as a "wife beater." In his November 2020 ruling, the judge who heard the case at the Royal Courts of Justice stated that he found the publication had proved its characterization to be "substantially true."

And legion of stalwart fans aside, legal experts knew that Depp's side faced a tall task in proving that Heard had made false statements in the Washington Post and that she did so with actual malice.

"They have to show that the individual was trying to harm the plaintiff either physically, mentally or financially, as in this situation," New Jersey-based criminal attorney and former prosecutor David Gelman explained to E! News ahead of Wednesday's verdict. "It's a high burden of proof, a lot of these cases are not successful."

Johnny Depp, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, 2017
Film Frame/Walt Disney/Kobal/Shutterstock

After losing his libel suit in the U.K., Depp announced days later that he had been asked by Warner Bros. to step down from the Fantastic Beasts franchise.

The actor testified during this trial that Disney booted him from the multibillion-dollar Pirates of the Caribbean franchise after Heard's Dec. 18, 2018, op-Ed was published.

The defense countered with witness testimony that Depp had tanked his own career and reputation with questionable behavior that had been widely reported on, and that Disney had reportedly been unsure of the future of the Pirates movies after the fifth installment came out in 2017.

But the business talk was just a tiny sliver of the testimony that was otherwise dominated by explosive claims of cruelty and physical violence the exes leveled at each other in court.

Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, court, defamation trial
EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

"You had both Amber Heard and Johnny Depp testify twice, which is also very unusual," Gelman said. "Then you had videos that were coming in, you had audio recordings, you had emails, text messages, experts testifying. By the end of it, the amount of evidence that was presented was so voluminous, the jury had so much to mull through."

Overall, the attorney said, "I think that was part of the legal theory for both parties: Just get everything out there, as much as possible, and see what happens."

Added Lerner, "It's particularly difficult to prevail on a defamation claim when the only two eyewitnesses to a lot of these events are Johnny Depp and Amber Heard themselves. And I think that it really does end up just being a determination by the jury of who is more believable than the other."

Amber Heard
MICHAEL REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Amid all the mud-slinging, actual s--t talk and he-said-she-said-they-said as various witnesses gave their accounts of Heard and Depp's toxic marital dynamic, it was easy at times (such as when Saturday Night Live gave its parodic take) to lose sight of what brought these two to a Virginia courtroom in the first place.

The Most Shocking Revelations From Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's Defamation Trial

Depp filed his $50 million defamation lawsuit against Heard in March 2019, alleging her 2018 Post op-Ed was part of an "elaborate hoax" to destroy his life while enhancing her public profile. The complaint acknowledged that he was not mentioned by name in the piece, but contended that the article relied "on the central premise that Ms. Heard was a domestic abuse victim and that Mr. Depp perpetrated domestic violence against her."

Heard was on the receiving end of oodles of social media vitriol as far back as May 2016, when she first filed for divorce from Depp and secured a temporary restraining order, alleging she had "endured excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse" during their 15-month marriage. A photo of Heard with bruises on her face ran on the cover of People magazine and several other photos purporting to substantiate her accusations were widely published.

Depp's rep said in a statement at the time that he wouldn't be responding to "salacious false stories, gossip, misinformation and lies about his personal life."

Amber Heard, Johnny Depp, Trial
Brendan Smialowski/AP/Shutterstock

Avoiding what the world can now safely guess would have been a messy showdown in court, Depp agreed in August 2016 to a $7 million settlement, which Heard said she planned to donate to charity. (After 2018 she halted donations due to "financial difficulties," ACLU chief operating officer Terence Dougherty testified in a pretaped deposition played at trial. Last year her lawyer told E! News Heard's pledges were delayed because she'd "been forced to spend millions of dollars defending Mr. Depp's false accusations against her.")

The divorce was finalized in January 2017. The settlement also included both exes agreeing to non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses stipulating that, moving forward, they would not make "derogatory, disparaging, critical or accusatory statements, either directly or indirectly, express or implied."

But the lines had already been drawn in the sand of the court of public opinion, with some readily accepting whatever Heard accused Depp of as the real story, while others assumed none of it was true and that she was a villain rather than a victim.

Throughout the just-concluded trial, BetOnline.ag tracked the top geo-tagged Twitter hashtags pertaining to the case (#IStandWithJohnnyDepp, #IBelieveAmberHeard, etc.) and found that, out of more than 1 million tweets covering all 50 states, 875,800 were favorable to Depp.

So six years seemed to have made nary a difference when it came to the preponderance of the hot takes.

Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp

The livestream of the proceedings—Depp's attorneys welcomed cameras in the courtroom while Heard's side unsuccessfully moved to bar them— were watched by a jaw-dropping number of people, Law&Crime network reporting May 2 that 330 million viewers had tuned into their coverage across all platforms.

"I think it's sort of the best access to justice and the workings of the law that the public can get," Melissa Lerner said of the livestream. "People get to watch it with their own eyes, they get to make their own determinations. It's not filtered through people sitting in the courtroom and deciding what is or isn't particularly compelling, or what will get the most clicks or the most notice. So, people who really wanted to follow every tiny detail were able to do that. It doesn't happen a lot."

But no matter how people were processing all that testimony, a lot of trauma was on display.

The Most Shocking Moments From Amber Heard's Testimony During Johnny Depp Defamation Trial

After six weeks of alternately graphic, salacious, emotional and, at times, even chuckle-provoking testimony, Heard's lawyer emphasized that Depp only needed to have committed one instance of abuse in order to dismantle his case—which hinged on the premise that Heard describing herself as a sufferer of abuse perpetrated by Depp (even if she didn't call him out by name) was a false claim.

"If Amber was abused by Mr. Depp even one time, then she wins," Heard attorney Benjamin Rottenborn said in his closing argument May 27. Depp had discussed Heard in text messages using the "the most vile, disgusting language that you could ever imagine," the attorney said. "These words are a window into the heart and mind of America's favorite pirate. This is the real Johnny Depp."

And even if they abused each other, Rottenborn also said in closing, that still meant Depp loses.

"They're trying to trick you that Amber has to be perfect in order to win," he said. "Don't fall for that trick."

Amber Heard
MICHAEL REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

In her closing remarks, Depp's attorney Camille Vasquez reiterated that there was an audio recording (played during the trial) in which Heard was heard talking about striking Depp. But, the lawyer added, there was no recording of her client admitting to "hitting, punching or kicking" his wife because "it didn't exist. It didn't happen." (Heard testified that, in the recording, she was referring to an instance in which she was defending herself against her then-husband.)

But while Heard and Depp's respective accusations were dissected and judged countless times over outside the courtroom, in the news and online, it's Depp who got the verdict he was looking for.

"Today's verdict confirms what we have said from the beginning, that the claims against Johnny Depp are defamatory and unsupported by any evidence," Camille Vasquez said. "We are grateful, so grateful to the jury for their careful deliberation, to the judge and the court staff who have devoted an enormous amount of time and resources towards this case."

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's Defamation Trial: All the Highlights From Closing Arguments

NBC News reported on various virtual celebrations of Depp's victory erupting online in the moments after the verdict was announced, crudely juxtaposed beside the tweets and other expressions of concern that this trial didn't bode well for how accusers are treated in the public square.

Camille Vasquez, Johnny Depp trial
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

"Men watching the trial might feel vindicated as they watch Depp testify about being abused by Heard, or they might feel ashamed or angry if they hear a friend or acquaintance mocking the idea of males being abused," relationship therapist Dr. Laura Berman, host of the podcast The Language of Love, said last month of the dueling accusations heard in court. "Similarly, women might feel like Heard is being painted as 'crazy' or hysterical, and they might relate to how they felt villainized and judged when they tried to seek help in an abusive situation."

Though it's talked about exponentially more now than it used to be, a lot of people still harbor old-fashioned notions of what domestic violence looks like, according to Berman.

"When people heard the words 'domestic abuse' in the past, they tended to picture a woman with a black eye hiding behind dark shades," she said. "That's the image of domestic violence that we often saw conjured up in Hollywood and in Lifetime movies of the week. But the Heard-Depp defamation trial is giving the public a whole new viewpoint of what abuse really is."

In his post-verdict statement, Depp also said, "I hope that my 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. I also hope that the position will now return to innocent until proven guilty, both within the courts and in the media."

But even if he hadn't received the decision he wanted from the jury, Depp was also courting the court of public opinion, David Gelman observed. "He's in the news," the lawyer said, "and at the end of the day, he may not have Pirates of the Caribbean anymore, he may not be this big star for Disney, but he may be able to be redeemed, if you will, later on down the line."

And Heard was able to state her case, too, even if she decidedly did not get the outcome she was hoping for. "The public always loves to see a second chance," Gelman said, "so we'll see how it goes for both of them."

—Additional reporting by Alli Rosenbloom

For more information on domestic abuse or to get help for yourself or someone you love, visit the website for The National Domestic Violence Hotline (http://www.thehotline.org/) or call 1-800-799-7233.