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Jurors begin deliberations in Depp-Heard defamation case

Attorneys for the formerly married Hollywood stars delivered closing arguments after six weeks of witness testimony.

FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — Six years to the day since a bruised Amber Heard walked into a Los Angeles court seeking a restraining order against her then-husband Johnny Depp, a jury on Friday began deliberating whether the actress defamed him by describing herself as a public figure representing abuse.

In closing arguments at the courthouse in Fairfax County, Virginia, legal teams for both actors traded accusations: Depp's lawyers painted their client as a wrongly accused man, a beloved celebrity whose life was upended by false domestic abuse charges leveled by Heard, 36. Attorneys for Heard contend Depp, 58, is an abuser who raped the "Aquaman" star with a vodka bottle.

The trial focused on an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Dec. 18, 2018, in which Heard recounted becoming a public figure representing abuse two years earlier -- a reference to 2016, when she took out a restraining order against Depp.

"Today, on May 27, 2022, exactly six years later, we ask you [the jury] to give Mr. Depp his life back by telling the world that Mr. Depp is not the abuser Ms. Heard said he is," argued Camille Vasquez, one of Depp's attorneys. "Hold Ms. Heard accountable for her lies."

Depp's good name is at stake, Vasquez said.

"Even more than that, what is at stake in this trial is a man's life -- the life that he lost when he was accused of heinous crimes, and the life he could live when he is finally vindicated," she said.

One of Heard's attorneys, Elaine Bredehoft, countered that Depp's $50 million lawsuit is about revenge.

"He came in here and lied to you and said he's here to get his reputation back. It's just one of many lies in this case but it's a really big one," she told jurors. "Because here we are, six weeks of your time, precious time, six weeks of the court's time. For what? For nothing. Only to go after Amber. That's psychological abuse."

Heard's statements are protected speech, argued Benjamin Rottenborn, another one of Heard's lawyers. "The purpose of the article was to promote legislative measures designed to protect victims of domestic abuse," he said.

The lawsuit claims that immediately after the article ran, Depp lost the part for which he is most well-known, Captain Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean." But a former agent testified that Depp's chronic lateness and problems remembering lines made it hard for him to get work.

"He didn't lose anything as a result of this op-ed," Rottenborn said of Depp.

But Benjamin Chew, Depp's lead attorney, argued that the actor's reputation has taken a hit, noting Depp has been in the public eye for years.

"Before Amber Heard," Chew said, "not one woman ever claimed that Mr. Depp raised a hand to her. This is #MeToo without any #MeToo."

The seven-person jury deliberated about two hours Friday before the presiding judge in the case, Penney Azcarate, sent them home for the Memorial Day weekend. They will continue deliberations Tuesday.

Three specific statements from Heard's op-ed are at issue, according to Azcarate's instructions to the jury:

–"I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change."

– "Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out."

– "I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse."

The jury must consider whether these statements "contain a defamatory implication to someone who saw them other than Mr. Depp," the instructions say. Jurors were also told to weigh whether the implications or insinuations in Heard's statements are false and whether the statements were made with actual malice.

Along with Depp's lawsuit, the jury is considering a $100 million counterclaim made by Heard. In it, she charges that Depp, through one of his attorneys, Adam Waldman, defamed her by characterizing her abuse claims as a hoax.

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