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Amber Heard drops appeal, settles defamation case with Johnny Depp

The "Aquaman" actress decried social media vilification and said she has lost faith in the American legal system.

FAIRFAX, VA. (CN) — Actress Amber Heard on Monday announced a settlement that ends her appeal in the high-profile defamation case brought against her by her ex-husband, Johnny Depp.

"It's important for me to say that I never chose this," she wrote in a defiant Instagram post. "I defended my truth and in doing so my life, as I knew it, was destroyed."

Heard is referring to an op-ed that appeared under her byline in The Washington Post four years ago: Dec. 18, 2018. In the article, Heard recounted that she had become a public figure representing domestic abuse and pinpointed a period two years earlier in 2016, when she had taken out a temporary restraining order against her then-husband Depp.

Within months after that article appeared, Depp filed suit contending he'd been defamed, and the trial spanned six weeks earlier this year. Jurors also heard evidence regarding Heard's counterclaim charging that she, too, had been defamed by comments made by a lawyer for the 59-year-old "Pirates of the Caribbean" star. Depp was asking for $50 million in damages; Heard initially wanted $100 million.

After hearing evidence from the actors, along with employees, doctors, friends and therapists, jurors awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. The judge reduced the latter amount to the statutory maximum of $350,000. But the jury also found that Heard, 36, was defamed by a statement made by one of Depp's attorneys and awarded her $2 million in compensatory damages, with no punitive damages. Both actors appealed the decision.

As part of the settlement, Heard will pay Depp $1 million, far less than the $10.35 million she would have paid had she lost her appeal. Depp will not have to pay Heard.

“We are pleased to formally close the door on this painful chapter for Mr. Depp, who made clear throughout this process his intent to bring the truth to light. This was never about money," according to a statement by the actor's lead attorneys, Benjamin Chew and Camille Vasquez of Brown Rudnick. "The jury’s unanimous decision in his favor and against Ms. Heard remains fully in place, and the payment by her insurer of $ 1 million -- which Mr. Depp has pledged and will donate to charities -- reinforces her acknowledgement of the legal system’s rigorous pursuit for justice.”

The statement added that Depp is "most grateful to the jury, the chief judges, the law clerks and the deputies in Fairfax County.”

While Heard did not discuss specifics of the agreement in her Instagram post, she said she would not be silenced.

"Now I finally have an opportunity to emancipate myself from something I attempted to leave over six years ago and on terms I can agree to," she wrote. "I have made no admission. This is not an act of concession. There are no restrictions or gags with respect to my voice moving forward."

Referring to the fact that the Virginia trial was televised and viewed by millions, Heard wrote that she had "lost faith in the American legal system, where my unprotected testimony served as entertainment and social media fodder."

A separate case brought by Depp in the United Kingdom ended differently in 2020, with a British judge deciding that the actor was not defamed by a tabloid article describing him as a “wife beater.”   

Heard wrote that when she stood before a judge in the U.K., "I was vindicated by a robust, impartial and fair system, where I was protected from having to give the worst moments of my testimony in front of the world's media, and where the court found that I was subjected to domestic and sexual violence."

She said that in the Virginia case, she exhausted almost all of her resources before the trial and was "subjected to a courtroom in which abundant, direct evidence that corroborated my testimony was excluded and in which popularity and power mattered more than reason and due process.

"In the interim I was exposed to a type of humiliation that I simply cannot relive," she added. "Even if my U.S. appeal is successful, the best outcome would be a retrial where a new jury would have to consider the evidence again. I simply cannot go through that for a third time."

Her decision, she says, allows her to dedicate her time to work.

"I will not be threatened, disheartened or dissuaded by what happened from speaking the truth. No one can and no one will take that from me. My voice forever remains the most valuable asset I have," Heard's post states.

Both sides will dismiss their respective appeals in the Virginia Court of Appeals on Dec. 22, according to a news release by Depp's legal team.

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