A Virginia jury has ruled that actor Amber Heard defamed her ex-husband Johnny Depp in an article in which she said she was a victim of abuse.
The jury has awarded Depp US$10 million in
compensatory damages and $5m in punitive damages.
The jury found that Heard’s statements about her marriage were “false” and she acted with “actual malice”.
The decision was read in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia.
Depp, the 58-year-old Pirates of the Caribbean star, sued Heard for US$50 million and argued that she defamed him when she called herself “a public figure representing domestic abuse” in a newspaper opinion piece.
Heard, 36, countersued for US$100 million, saying Depp smeared her when his lawyer called her accusations a “hoax.”
The jury ruled that Heard’s defamation claims against Johnny Depp were unproven.
Depp has denied hitting Heard or any woman and said she was the one who turned violent in their relationship.
Depp and Heard met in 2011 while filming The Rum Diary and wed in February 2015. Their divorce was finalized about two years later.
At the centre of the legal case was a December 2018 opinion piece by Heard in the Washington Post in which she made the statement about domestic abuse. The article did not mention Depp by name but his lawyer told jurors it was clear that Heard was referring to him.
During six weeks of testimony, Heard’s attorneys argued that she had told the truth and that her comments were covered as free speech under the US Constitution’s First Amendment.
Throughout the case, jurors listened to recordings of the couple’s fights and saw graphic photos of Depp’s bloody finger. He said the top of the finger was severed when Heard threw a vodka bottle at him in 2015.
Heard denied injuring Depp’s finger and said Depp sexually assaulted her that night with a liquor bottle. She said she struck him only to defend herself or her sister.
Testimony was livestreamed widely on social media, drawing large audiences to hear details about the couple’s troubled relationship.
Once among Hollywood’s biggest stars, Depp said Heard’s allegations cost him “everything.” A new Pirates movie was put on hold and Depp was replaced in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, a ‘Harry Potter’ spinoff.
Depp lost a libel case less than two years ago against the Sun, a British tabloid that labelled him a “wife beater.” A London High Court judge ruled that he had repeatedly assaulted Heard.
Depp’s lawyers filed the US case in Fairfax County, Virginia, because the Washington Post is printed there. The newspaper is not a defendant.