Hollywood stars

Depp wins near-total victory in US libel case against ex-wife Heard

June 1 (Reuters) – Actor Johnny Depp won more than $10 million in damages on Wednesday, winning a near-total victory in a libel suit against ex-wife Amber Heard to cap a six-week trial with graphic testimonies on the stars’ embittered relationship.

A seven-person jury in Virginia also ruled for Heard on a counterclaim against Depp. The ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie star described the decision as vindication, and his ex-wife said it was “a disappointment.”

Jurors awarded Depp $15 million in damages from Heard, which the judge reduced to $10.35 million to comply with state limits on punitive damages. The panel ordered Depp to pay Heard $2 million in damages.

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Depp, 58, had sued Heard for $50million and claimed she defamed him when she called herself a “public figure representing domestic violence” in a newspaper opinion piece.

Heard countersued for $100 million, claiming Depp smeared him when his attorney called his accusations a “hoax.”

Depp denied hitting Heard, 36, or any other woman and said it was her who became violent in their relationship.

He told jurors that the allegations from Heard, best known for her role in “Aquaman,” cost him “everything.” A new “Pirates” movie has been put on hold, and Depp has been replaced in the “Fantastic Beasts” film franchise, a “Harry Potter” spin-off.

“The jury has given my life back to me. I am truly touched,” Depp, who watched the verdict from Britain, said in a statement.

“The best is yet to come and a new chapter has finally begun,” he added, ending with the Latin phrase “Veritas numquam perit. Truth never perishes.”

Heard, seated in the courtroom between two of her attorneys, looked down as the verdicts were read.

“The disappointment I feel today is beyond words,” she said in a statement. “I am heartbroken that the mountain of evidence was still not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence and sway of my ex-husband.”

“I am even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women,” she added. “It’s a setback.”

Depp faced a different outcome in Britain less than two years ago when he sued the Sun tabloid for calling him a ‘wife beater’. A High Court judge in London ruled that he assaulted Heard on several occasions.

THE JURY AGREES TO TALK ABOUT COUPLE AGREEMENTS

The two met in 2011 while filming “The Rum Diary” and married in February 2015. Their divorce was finalized about two years later.

At the center of the court case was a December 2018 opinion piece by Heard in The Washington Post. The article did not mention Depp by name, but his attorney told jurors it was clear Heard was referring to him. Read more

The jury accepted all of Depp’s defamation claims, which cited a passage from the article and headline that read, “I spoke out against sexual violence – and I faced the wrath of our culture. That must change.”

Jurors dismissed two of Heard’s three counterclaims. They concluded she was defamed when a lawyer for Depp told a news outlet that Heard staged property damage to show police after an alleged fight.

“Amber and her friends spilled some wine and roughed up the place, got their stories straight under the guidance of a lawyer and a publicist,” the statement read in part.

During six weeks of testimony, lawyers for Heard argued that she had told the truth and that her comments were covered by free speech under the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Jurors listened to tapes of the couple’s fights and saw graphic photos of Depp’s bloody finger. He said the top of his finger was severed when Heard threw a bottle of vodka at him in 2015.

Heard denied injuring Depp’s finger and said Depp sexually assaulted her that night with a bottle of liquor. She said she only hit him to defend herself or her sister.

The testimony was widely streamed live on social media, drawing large audiences to hear details about the couple’s troubled relationship.

Depp’s attorneys filed the US case in Fairfax County, Va., because The Washington Post is printed there. The newspaper was not accused.

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Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Kanishka Singh; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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