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Train-wreck trials are box-office gold for the media, so the donnybrook going down now in London between movie stars Johnny Depp and Amber Heard – plus a provocative tabloid newspaper – is a can't-look-away legal melee, risible and appalling at the same time.
So far, the trial has featured testimony about: Violent, shrieking rows. Massive consumption of drugs and drink. Wild punches and flying projectiles. Trashed rooms. A lopped off fingertip. A teacup Yorkie dangled out a car window. Translations of Depp's antique American slang ("haymaker" and "porkie-pies" ) for the British judge.
And ickiest of all, human feces in a bed.
Moreover, this is only Part 1: Sometime later this year or early next year, Depp and Heard are due to put up their dukes again in a Virginia courtroom for a jury trial over Depp's defamation civil suit against his ex-wife. She wrote a newspaper column proclaiming herself a victim of domestic abuse, leaving the strong impression that Depp was the alleged abuser.
Is this judge-only libel trial in the United Kingdom a preview of the American one?
"The American trial will be very different," predicts Adam Waldman, Depp's Washington, D.C. lawyer. "The procedural rules are quite different between the U.S. and the U.K. The Virginia trial is a jury trial and that is another significant difference."
To recap: In London, it's week two in a three-week trial over a civil suit for libel filed by Depp, 57, against the top editor and the publisher of The Sun tabloid (Rupert Murdoch's company), which labeled him a "wife beater" without bothering to precede the term with "alleged" or "accused."
Heard, 34, is expected to take the stand this week for The Sun. She has accused Depp of repeatedly beating her in drug-induced rages since before they married in 2015 until they began divorce proceedings in 2016. Their divorce was finalized in 2017 following an uproar in divorce court in Los Angeles.
Depp has strongly denied all of her accusations, saying she was the abuser in their brief, volatile relationship. Their marriage, he told Heard several times, was "a crime scene waiting to happen," he testified.
On Thursday, Depp's security chief, Sean Bett, said in a written witness statement, released as he appeared in court, that Heard was verbally and physically abusive towards Depp throughout their relationship.
“On many occasions, I witnessed her shout at Mr. Depp. I was also told by Mr. Depp on multiple occasions that Ms. Heard had physically abused him,” he said. “Ms. Heard often behaved in this way when she had been drinking. I learnt quickly to recognize the signs, so that we were able to leave the situation before it escalated further.”
On cross-examination by The Sun's lawyer, Sasha Wass, she suggested Bett was lying to protect Depp, his employer. “Ma’am you can call me a liar a hundred times. I’m not a liar. I’m telling the truth," Bett said.
On Friday, more damaging testimony for The Sun: A MeToo activist said in written testimony that she was “misquoted and misused” by the tabloid to smear Depp. "I (did not) accuse Mr. Depp of hurting Amber Heard, about which I have no first-hand knowledge," said actress Katherine Kendall. Instead, she said, she heard “several times” that Heard was abusive to Depp. Most of what The Sun published in their April 2018 story quoting her, she said, was a "lie."
Also on Friday, Isaac Baruch, an artist and longtime friend to Depp and the next-door neighbor at the couple's Los Angeles penthouse, told the court he saw no signs of marks, scratches, swelling or bruises on Heard’s face in the days immediately after she claimed Depp beat her up in May 2016, just before they broke up.
Until now, none of either Depp's or Heard's accusations has ever been put before a judge or jury in any court anywhere, or even confirmed by police reports. Now a British judge gets first crack at deciding who is telling the truth, who is not and whether anyone was libeled under British law.
Some lowlights from the trial so far:
Who or what left poop in the bed?
In April 2016, Depp's longtime maid found feces in a bed at their Los Angeles penthouse the morning after Heard’s 30th birthday party when she claims the couple fought and Depp threw a magnum wine bottle at her. He denies that.
Heard blamed one of her two tiny Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, for the defecation incident. Depp said it was human; so did the maid. "It was not left by a three- or four-pound dog," he told the court. "I was convinced that it was either Ms Heard herself or one of her (friends)."
He said it was one of the final triggering events for the end of their marriage. “I thought that was an oddly fitting end to the relationship,” he said.
How did Depp's fingertip get chopped off in Australia?
As part of her list of 14 alleged instances of abuse by Depp, Heard claims Depp subjected her to a “three-day ordeal of assaults” in March 2015 in Australia, where Depp was filming his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” film.
Depp rejects this accusation but acknowledged they had a fight which resulted in their rented house being trashed and Depp’s fingertip being severed to the bone.
Depp says that happened when Heard threw a vodka bottle at him. She says she wasn't in the room at the time.
Depp acknowledged he used the blood from severed finger to paint messages on a mirror, and the court was shown pictures of the mirror and of Depp on a hospital gurney.
Who allegedly drank and did drugs the most?
Depp acknowledged heavy use of multiple drugs over his life but he testified he was trying to kick his habits during the period of the marriage, and sometimes lapsed.
Heard was no drug-free saint, Depp claimed. He said she had “many times” chopped out lines of cocaine for him, before rubbing some of the drug into her gums.
Depp's lawyer, David Sherborne, asked him about medical notes from August 2014 that referred to Heard’s “history of substance abuse,” including an addiction to cocaine. The notes said Heard experienced anxiety, insecurity and jealousy and had “severe outbursts of anger and rage.”
Did this tally with Depp's experience of Heard, he was asked. “Yes,” Depp said.
When Sasha Wass said Heard often had two or three glasses of wine during an evening, Depp shot back: “Two or three bottles.”
“That is complete nonsense, Mr. Depp,” Wass snapped.
These two engaged in other sharp exchanges during cross-examination, apparently allowed in British civil trials. When Depp claimed Heard was responsible for most of the damage to the rented house in Australia, Wass protested, "That is completely untrue."
“Thank you, but it’s not," Depp retorted.
Did Depp really threaten Heard's little dog, Pistol?
Heard has accused Depp of dangling her teeny-tiny pooch out a car window and making "howling noises" as he was driving with Heard and others. Depp said this was an "absolute utter falsity."
"I don't think hanging an animal, a small defenseless dog that weighs three pounds, out of a window is fun." He said his sense of humor is "rather skewed" but not that much.
Pistol and Boo have come up several times in the trial because they have been star players before in the Depp/Heard saga. In July 2015, Heard was charged with smuggling the two dogs to Australia on a private jet. She pleaded guilty in April 2016 and escaped a conviction after expressing remorse in an awkward hostage-style video she made with Depp.
On Wednesday, Depp's former estate manager, Kevin Murphy, testified that Heard asked him to lie under oath about illegally sneaking the dogs in. Murphy claimed Heard pressured him to commit perjury or risk losing his job. He said he made a misleading statement in the Australian court case because "Amber wielded a lot of power and would have made my life miserable."
Heard is accused of stealing another woman's rape experience for her own use
In dramatic testimony on Wednesday, Kate James, Heard's former personal assistant, said she told her former boss that she was raped at machete-point in Brazil decades ago. She said she was shocked to learn that in a witness statement, Heard allegedly misrepresented and exploited her story to court sympathy.
“She referred directly to a violent rape that occurred to me 26 years ago and she twisted it into her own story and she used it for her own use," James said by video link from Los Angeles.“I am a sexual violence survivor and that’s very, very serious to take that stance if you are not one."
Depp believes Heard was plotting to lodge fake claims against Depp from the start
In a text message to his doctor after the Australia altercation, Depp called Heard “malicious, evil and vindictive,” said she was desperate for fame, and that he believes she married him with that in mind. He testified he thinks Heard made up fake claims against him as an “insurance policy.”
As evidence he cited an email she wrote but never sent (it was read in court), in which she compared him to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “Many times you have hurt me. Physically and emotionally from the things you say and did while (messed) up,” she wrote.
“Hoax is probably the best word one could use because the allegations, all of the allegations, are patently untrue," Depp testified. "It appears to me that Ms. Heard was building a dossier very early on that appears to be an insurance policy for later.”
Depp lost how much money due to alleged business mismanagement?
Depp's eye-popping spending habits (at one point, monthly five-figure bills for wine) and the vast sums he's raked in as a movie star came up again in the trial. He testified that the big fight with Heard on her birthday in Los Angeles came hours after he was told his former business managers had absconded with hundreds of millions of dollars.
Asked how much was allegedly stolen, Depp said, “This is a ludicrous amount to have to state, it’s quite embarrassing — apparently I had made $650 million,” much of it through the ”Pirates of the Caribbean” films. Depp added that in addition to losing the $650 million he was “$100 million in the hole because they had not paid the government my taxes for 17 years." Depp and his former business managers settled a legal dispute over the alleged fraud in 2018.
What other famous names have come up in testimony?
Depp's former partner, French singer Vanessa Paradis, with whom he has two children, and actress Winona Ryder, his girlfriend in the 1990s, have submitted witness statements supporting him. They were scheduled to testify, but Depp's lawyer said Thursday they were no longer necessary as The Sun does not contest their claim he never hit them.
Other boldfaced names that have come up so far include Marilyn Manson, Keith Richards, James Franco, Billy Bob Thornton, British actor Paul Bettany, and Depp's friend, the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, whose book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" was adapted for a movie Depp starred in.
Depp testified about trashing a hotel room where he was staying with Kate Moss, recalled the death of his friend River Phoenix from a drug overdose at his nightclub, the Viper Room, in Los Angeles, and claimed Elton John helped him kick his $30,000-a-month wine habit.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard: All the nasty bits of the nasty UK trial