What You Need To Know About Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s Defamation Trial

Depp v. Heard is underway, in Virginia and online.

If you’ve been on any social media platform lately, you’ve probably been inundated with posts about the ongoing Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard defamation trial. Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok especially have been ripe with information about the trial, though most posts fail to provide all of the basic details. To make it easier to understand, we’ve listed everything you need to know about Depp v. Heard, starting with some necessary background.

Depp and Heard, both actors, started dating in 2012, and got married in 2015. Their relationship proved to be especially tumultuous, and the pair divorced in 2017, with both sides claiming that the other had been abusive. In their divorce hearings, Heard testified about her abuse and provided photographs, claiming they proved her claims that Depp physically abused her, usually while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The hearings ended with Depp paying out a $7 million settlement to Heard, and prohibited either party from discussing their relationship publicly.

In June 2018, Depp sued several newspapers in the UK for libel (the act of defaming someone in writing) after The Sun called Depp a “wife beater.” The verdict in that trial (announced in November 2020) proved that most of Heard’s claims were “substantially true,” thus not making The Sun’s claim libelous. The judge did recognize that Heard’s claims had hurt Depp’s acting career, after Disney cut ties with him. In December 2018, Heard wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, again describing herself as a public victim of domestic violence at the hands of Depp, though never mentioning him by name. In February 2019, Depp sued Heard over her claims in the op-ed, alleging that she had been the abuser in the relationship, and that her claims were an “elaborate hoax” to destroy his acting career. In August 2020, Heard countersued Depp, alleging that his abuse claims had negatively impacted her career. That trial began last week.

That was a LOT of information, but that’s where we are today, with Depp v. Heard now fully underway. Here’s what to know about the trial as it unfolds:

  1. It’s taking place in Fairfax County, Virginia, in front of both a regular jury and a livestream channel, where viewers have been taking sides and voicing their opinions, in part leading to the ongoing social media frenzy. Much of social media is siding with Depp, though Heard has some supporters, too.
  2. The trial is expected to take six weeks.
  3. Depp testified that he never hit Heard, and that she was the true abuser throughout their marriage. His lawyers, Ben Chew and Camille Vasquez, claim that Heard staged injuries before her claims of abuse.
  4. Heard’s lawyers, Elaine Bredehoft and J. Benjamin Rottenborn, alleged that Depp both physically and sexually abused heard throughout their relationship. They stressed Heard’s First Amendment right to speech in defense of the op-ed, and stated that Depp harmed his own career with drug and alcohol problems.
  5. Witnesses have started taking to the stand, including Depp’s sister, Christi Dembrowski, who spoke of his abuse as a child, leading to him to pledge to never hurt a woman. She did admit she was concerned about her brother’s drug use. Another Depp witness, Heard’s former assistant Kate James, called Heard “belligerent and abusive,” along with “manic.”
  6. The pair’s couples therapist in 2015, Laurel Anderson, stated that she believed that there was “mutual abuse” in the relationship.
  7. Depp alleged that Heard threw a bottle of vodka at him, thus severing his finger, during an explosive argument in Australia in 2015.
  8. Both sides have shown the jury media elements, including a recording of Heard admitting to being physical with Depp. Other recordings include Heard discussing injuries, and audio of Depp becoming aggressive during a fight, saying “Want to see crazy, I’ll give you [expletive] crazy.” Disturbing and graphic text messages sent by Depp have also been discussed.
  9. Heard has yet to testify, though she is expected to in the coming weeks. Other expected witnessed include Paul Bettany, James Franco, Ellen Barkin, and Elon Musk, who dated Heard for a year in 2018.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, call the anonymous National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233, or your state-specific group.


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