Amber Heard vs Johnny Depp trial: She says he would turn into 'monster' due to drugs and alcohol; threatened to kill her
Lawyers for Hollywood star Johnny Depp on Tuesday gave a jury an overview of his U.S. defamation case against his ex-wife Amber Heard, the latest chapter in a long-running legal fight between the two Hollywood stars. Opening statements kicked off in a Virginia courtroom in a lawsuit Johnny, 58, brought against Amber, 35, for $50 million in 2018. Also Read| Johnny Depp's $50 million defamation suit against ex-wife Amber Heard begins; Elon Musk, James Franco may testify
Johnny alleges Amber defamed him when she penned a December 2018 opinion piece in the Washington Post about being a survivor of domestic abuse. The article never mentioned Johnny by name, but his lawyer Benjamin Chew told jurors on Tuesday that it was clear Amber was referencing the Hollywood leading man.
Benjamin told jurors Amber published the piece on the eve of the release of "Aquaman," her biggest film yet, to drum up publicity and advance her career. "By choosing to lie about her husband for her own personal benefit, Amber Heard forever changed Mr. Depp's life and his reputation," Benjamin said. “You will hear him tell you the dreadful impact it has had on his life.” Amber's piece in the Washington Post "devastated" Johnny's career, Benjamin said.
"Hollywood studios don't want to deal with the public backlash from hiring someone accused of abuse — even someone with the incredible body of work and record that Mr. Depp can be proud of," Benjamin said.
J. Benjamin Rottenborn, a lawyer for Amber, said in his opening statement that Johnny was trying to mislead the jury with "crazy conspiracy theories." Rottenborn said Amber was telling the truth about "horrific" abuse she endured, but the case is really about a narrow legal question: whether Heard's opinion piece was free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.
"That is the question, and that is what you are being asked to decide," Rottenborn told jurors. "Mr. Depp's team is going to try to turn this case into a soap opera," Rottenborn said. "Why? I'm not really sure, because the evidence isn't pretty for Mr. Depp."
Another of Amber's lawyers, Elaine Bredehoft, said that during a trip to Australia in 2015, Johnny dragged Amber across the floor, punched her, kicked her and then “penetrated her with a liquor bottle.” Johnny shook his head "no" in the courtroom when Elaine made the statement to jurors.
A state court judge in Fairfax County, Virginia, is overseeing the trial, which is expected to last six weeks. A jury was selected on Monday. Less than two years ago Johnny lost a libel case against The Sun, a British tabloid that labeled him a “wife beater." A London High Court judge ruled he had repeatedly assaulted Heard and put her in fear for her life.
In the U.S. case, Johnny and Amber both submitted long lists of potential witnesses they could put on the stand. Amber's list includes her ex-boyfriend and Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, with whom she texted about Johnny. Also on the list of potential witnesses is actor James Franco.
The Washington Post is not a defendant in the case. Johnny’s lawyers have said they filed the case in Fairfax County, outside the District of Columbia, because the newspaper is printed at a facility there. Amber unsuccessfully tried to transfer the case to Los Angeles, where she and Johnny lived.
The United States is a difficult forum for libel plaintiffs, especially public figures like Johnny, who faces several hurdles in the Virginia case. Johnny must prove by clear and convincing evidence that Amber knowingly made false claims. Johnny and Amber met while making 2011 film “The Rum Diary” and married four years later. Amber accused Johnny of domestic abuse after filing for divorce in 2016.
Amber is known for her roles in "Aquaman" and "Justice League." She has brought her own libel claim against Johnny, saying he smeared her by calling her a liar. Amber's counterclaim will be decided as part of the trial. She is seeking $100 million in damages from Johnny, according to court papers.
In her evidence to the London High Court, Amber said Johnny would turn into a jealous alter ego, “the monster,” after binging on drugs and alcohol and had threatened to kill her. She detailed 14 occasions of extreme violence when she said the actor choked, punched, slapped, head-butted, throttled and kicked her. The London judge accepted 12 of these accounts as true.
Following the November 2020 ruling in the London libel trial, Johnny was replaced with Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen in the third film in the "Fantastic Beasts" franchise, a spin-off from the “Harry Potter” books and films.