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The jury sided with Depp, finding Heard guilty of having defamed her ex-husband by claiming he had committed domestic violence in a 2018 Washington Post Op-ed.
Many observers were shocked by the verdict.
The result reveals the power of celebrity, particularly male celebrity, experts note.
After six weeks, a jury of seven people issued a verdict on the defamation trial between Johnny Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard. Here are a handful of takeaways from the polarizing trial, which overtook social media conversations and raised questions about the power of celebrity and the future of the #MeToo movement.
Heard loses to Depp in defamation trial
After a slightly delayed verdict reading, the jury sided completely with Depp and found Heard guilty of having defamed her ex-husband by claiming he had committed domestic violence in a 2018 Washington Post Op-ed.
The jury then awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages in the suit against Heard. The “Aquaman” star also received an award of $2 million in damages in her countersuit against Depp.
Outside of the courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Depp fans, some of whom were dressed in pirate costumes, cheered the trial verdict and Depp’s legal team as they exited the courthouse. “Our judicial system is predicated on each person’s right to have his or her case heard. And we were honored, truly honored to assist Mr. Depp in ensuring that his case was fairly considered throughout the trial,” said Ben Chew, one of Depp’s attorneys, after the verdict.
“We are also most pleased that the trial has resonated for so many people in the public who value truth and justice. Now that the jury has reached its conclusive verdict, it’s time to turn the page and look to the future.”
Depp’s win against Heard is a blow to the #MeToo movement
In Heard’s 2018 op-ed, the actor speaks about the backlash she experienced after speaking out against sexual harassment and sexual abuse stating that two years earlier she had become “a public figure representing domestic abuse” and eventually felt the “full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.” A year before the article was published, Heard was married to Depp, and although she does not mention the “Pirates of the Caribbean” actor in the piece at all, Depp decided to sue her for $50 million claiming the piece defamed him, costing him work.
Depp is not the first high-profile man to file a defamation suit against a former partner alleging abuse. Marilyn Manson sued his former fiancé Evan Rachel Wood for defamation in March just before the release of an HBO documentary about the actress’s sexual and physical abuse allegations.
Shortly after the trial began, it seemed that in the court of public opinion Depp was already the winner of the defamation trial after waves of tweets, memes and TikTok videos questioning Heard’s credibility began to circulate online. On TikTok, #justiceforJohnnyDepp has 19 billion views while #justiceforamberheard only has just over 69 million views.
Some experts fear that the backlash Heard has faced throughout the entire trial and the overwhelming victory for Depp, will discourage some victims of intimate partner violence from coming forward in the future.
“The disappointment I feel today is beyond words. I’m heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband,” Heard said in a statement after the verdict was delivered.
“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously. I believe Johnny’s attorneys succeeded in getting the jury to overlook the key issue of Freedom of Speech and ignore evidence that was so conclusive that we won in the UK. I’m sad I lost this case. But I am sadder still that I seem to have lost a right I thought I had as an American – to speak freely and openly.”
The Depp-Heard case doesn’t stand for all such cases
Even though Depp was victorious, women who have suffered abuse from a partner, particularly a powerful one, should not be deterred from speaking out against the behavior, experts say. “I think if I were advising a woman thinking about filing a complaint against a powerful man who has abused her I would not let this case stand in the way of doing that,” University of Michigan Law School Professor Barbara McQuade told NBC. “Every case is decided on its own facts.”
Those that have been following the trial were shocked by the verdict
Despite the barrage of social media support for Depp, many expected Heard to not be found guilty of defaming her ex-husband, especially after detailing some of the alleged acts of abuse. But many took to social media to express their shock at the verdict shortly after the trial was over.
I'm in shock. There's no question Depp was abusive. Maybe Heard was too, I don't know, but neither he nor this trial is something to be celebrated (or hooked up with M sweet lord)
— Sonya Paxton (@paxton_sonya) June 1, 2022
“I’m in shock,” wrote one twitter user. “There’s no question Depp was abusive. Maybe Heard was too, I don’t know, but neither he nor this trial is something to be celebrated.”
The trial said something about the power that comes with being a male celebrity
Some of the claims of abuse by Depp were gruesome. During the trial Heard alleged that Depp sexually abused her with a liquor bottle, sexually assaulted her while looking for his cocaine and threatened to kill her during a physical assault. But despite that, Depp was still able to garner public support from fans that had followed his decades long career with hundreds of fans standing outside of the courthouse during the duration of the trial. “It does show to the star power of Hollywood,” McQuade also told NBC. “He is a major movie star and I think there are people who are willing to overlook any mistake because they love his onscreen persona of Captain Jack Sparrow.”
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