Amber Heard overacted on the stand, but Johnny Depp's defamation lawsuit is still hers to lose, experts say

Amber Heard
Amber Heard.Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via REUTERS
  • Amber Heard came off as less authentic than Johnny Depp on the stand, experts told Insider.

  • Depp has taken Heard to trial, accusing her of defaming him with domestic-violence allegations.

  • Despite her credibility issues, the experts said Heard was likely to win the case.

This week marked a dramatic shift in Johnny Depp's trial against Amber Heard.

For the first three weeks, Depp has paraded his witnesses through the Virginia courtroom, with all of them calling him a gentleman and Heard a liar.

Everything changed when, on Wednesday, Heard took the stand.

Her testimony, according to the trial consultant Jill Huntley Taylor, has raised the stakes of the case.

Depp's testimony earlier in the trial about the occasions that Heard is accused of punching or verbally attacking him were specific, and his denials about allegations of misconduct against him were elaborate.

Heard testified that Depp went on days-long drug-fueled binges and beat her regularly and described the injuries she alleged she suffered from those assaults.

If her lawyers can't corroborate all that over the next couple weeks, jurors may not find her credible.

"Amber Heard has taken a riskier approach. Her claims of abuse are very extreme. If the jurors believe her, she should see a windfall to award her and punish Depp," Huntley Taylor told Insider. "However, if jurors do not believe her, they will punish her. For that reason, her credibility seems paramount to the jurors' decisions."

It's important to note that Heard doesn't want to be there, people close to her have told Insider.

Depp is the one who brought the lawsuit against her, in March 2019. He alleged that she defamed him when she described herself as a victim of domestic violence in a December 2018 Washington Post op-ed — even though she didn't use his name in the article.

But Depp alleged Heard was the one who abused him. Heard has denied the accusations and filed a countersuit, alleging Depp physically assaulted her on numerous occasions during their relationship, which ended in 2016. The jury, in a Virginia state court, is deciding both parties' lawsuits at the same time.

Heard's testimony may have appeared too melodramatic

In a case involving two actors, Heard came across as more of a performer, which could hurt her credibility with the jury, Brett Ward, a cochair of the matrimonial and family law practice at Blank Rome, told Insider.

"Unfortunately, when she talks about actual incidents of violence, her comments go from victim to actress, and that's a real big problem for her," Ward said.

Ward pointed to comments Heard made while describing physical assaults she said she suffered at the hands of Depp, such as Heard noticing how dirty her carpet was when she alleged a slap from Depp knocked her to the floor.

He said some of her descriptions of these events had a tendency to sound "like a soliloquy."

Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp as he departs his defamation trial on Thursday.Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via REUTERS

Christa Ramey, a cofounder of the Los Angeles civil-litigation firm Ramey Law PC, agreed. She said the level of detail Heard gave for these assault allegations was not typically how victims remember trauma. Victims usually have "fragmented memories" of their experiences, she said.

"Your mind works to protect you, and so it kind of buries fragments of memories in different parts of your brain, and what you recall doesn't come out normally as a story with a beginning, middle, and end," Ramey said.

While Heard sat stone-faced through Depp's testimony, Depp has been animated during Heard's. The courtroom cameras show him doodling, appearing to crack jokes in his lawyers' ears, sniggering at some of Heard's recollections, and eating from a pile of gummy bears on the table before him.

Juda Engelmayer, the founder of HeraldPR and an expert in crisis public relations, wouldn't recommend that approach to any of his clients. But, he said, Depp's reactions may be strategic. It's a way of signaling to the jury — and his supporters watching from home — that Heard's claims aren't to be taken seriously.

"If this was something that he thinks he would get called out on, and get in trouble for, he'll be taken more seriously," Engelmayer told Insider. "His smiling and laughing and almost looking like it doesn't matter to him — it helps his fan base."

He took the same approach when he took the stand, sparring with Heard's lawyers instead of giving tight and straightforward answers, Engelmayer said.

"Johnny Depp is using all of his acting skills in this," Engelmayer said. "The fact that he joked a little bit, he came back with a funny retort — he is employing everything he's ever learned throughout his career to try to win."

Jurors will get a week for Heard's testimony to sink in

Because of the way the trial is scheduled, Heard got to wrap up her side of the story before a weeklong break. She won't be subject to cross-examination from Depp's lawyers until May 16, which gives jurors a week to allow her testimony to sink in unchallenged.

"The jury is left with Amber Heard's testimony still ringing in the ears — if they find her credible, and if they dwell on that over the coming days, that may be to Ms. Heard's advantage," Amber Melville-Brown, a media and reputation law specialist at Withers, told Insider.

But it can also have a downside. While the break gives Heard an advantage in letting her testimony sit with the jury, it also gives Depp's lawyers extra time to pore over her testimony to prepare for cross-examination, Ramey said.

Amber Heard
Heard is seen in court in Fairfax, Virginia.Shawn Thew/Pool via REUTERS

Huntley Taylor said Heard's legal team did well with the time they had so far. Having Dawn Hughes, a clinical psychologist who evaluated Heard, testify about the structure of the abuse allegations against Depp helped dismantle the narrative that his legal team built and gave the jury a preview of what it could expect to hear.

"The psychologist set up a framework for her story, and now Amber Heard is telling it," she said. "To believe her would mean the jury would need to believe that Johnny Depp was extremely abusive both in terms of the types of abuse and the amount."

Heard's testimony may also seem more credible simply because an accomplished psychologist told the jury it was, Engelmayer said.

"I think what they're trying to do is rather than having Amber Heard and her own testimony speak for itself, they want to first have an expert let you know in advance how you should think," he said.

Johnny Depp
Depp testifies in his defamation trial against Heard.Steve Helber/Pool via Reuters

So far, the jury might not love either of them. Much like the public, jurors may believe that neither person is telling the whole story and that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Depp's abrasive response to cross-examination may not have won any fans, and jurors may be suspending their judgment on Heard until his lawyers cross-examine her. Jurors may have also been frustrated by how each side told its stories — and interrupted the other side, trying to tell its stories, Huntley Taylor said.

"Jurors do not love all of the rules of law that disrupt the flow or prevent them from hearing important information," she told Insider. "They do recognize when witnesses try to add their own color commentary."

Depp may have salvaged some of his career

For Depp, the case was always about his reputation — on a personal and professional level. His loss of roles in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Fantastic Beasts" movie franchises, as well as being relegated to roles in small-budget independent films, have bolstered his $50 million claims for damages.

Both Ramey and Ward think Heard will win the case but that the trial may help Depp regain his footing in Hollywood.

Ward said the evidence against Depp was too strong and he'd have a hard time arguing that Heard's op-ed, which came out two years after the abuse allegations first made the news, was specifically what ruined his career.

But Ward said the trial could have thrown enough doubt on Heard's claims that Depp may be able to start acting again somewhere down the line.

Johnny Depp.
Depp in court on April 28.MICHAEL REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

"The kind of unfairness of it is that Johnny Depp has a better chance of someone putting him in an indie film or smaller production at a good price than it is for her. But that's Hollywood. That's some ageism. That's some sexism."

Engelmayer said the trial had proved that Depp still had hordes of fans — including women — who believe and support him and think Heard is falsely accusing him. He may not ever again be in family-friendly roles, but he'll have a career in more ethically ambiguous roles, he said.

"Johnny Depp is showing studios and showing publicists that he can win audiences over," Engelmayer said. "That's what I think of in terms of the turning point. This is not a criminal trial."

Ramey pointed to the hordes of fans who had come out in person to support Depp throughout the trial as evidence that the public was behind him.

"Johnny Depp has won regardless of whatever the outcome of the trial is," Ramey said. "He's gained his reputation back in front of the public, period, full stop."

There's a high degree of chance, Huntley Taylor said, that jurors believe the relationship was "toxic" and that "both were culpable for abuse."

"It is possible jurors send both parties home with nothing, such as if they think she honestly reported that she was abused and he honestly reported that she was abusive toward him," Huntley Taylor said. "Jurors could say, 'Enough is enough. Go to your fancy houses and stay away from each other.'"

Read the original article on Insider