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Jurors mostly side with Depp in defamation case against Heard

A Virginia jury awarded Johnny Depp more than $10 million in damages and decided on $2 million for Amber Heard, after a seven-week trial in which the actors traded accusations of physical abuse and career sabotage.

FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — The jury deliberating a high-profile defamation case between divorced Hollywood stars found Wednesday that actress Amber Heard defamed her ex-husband Johnny Depp in an article describing herself as a domestic abuse survivor, but also found his attorney defamed her.

Jurors awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, the latter of which was reduced by the judge to the statutory maximum of $350,000. Depp's total award came to $10.3 million.

Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and no punitive damages.

In a statement posted to Instagram after the verdict, Depp said the jury “gave me my life back.”

“From the very beginning, the goal of bringing this case was to reveal the truth, regardless of the outcome,” he said. “Speaking the truth was something that I owed to my children and to all those who have remained steadfast in their support of me. I feel at peace knowing I have finally accomplished that.”

Heard also posted a statement on the social media platform, saying her disappointment in the verdict “is beyond words.”

“I’m sad I lost this case,” she said. “But I am sadder still that I seem to have lost a right I thought I had as an American – to speak freely and openly.”

With Depp out of town, the courthouse was mostly populated by press, though some of his supporters popped up for the verdict.

Dusty Shenofsky was one of them. She’s followed the case from the beginning and frequently attended the trial.

“I’m elated he was able to speak his truth and his truth was heard and believed,” Shenofsky said.

Similarly, Virginia McKenna, a Maryland resident, said it was “high time [Depp] got justice.” McKenna said she thought Heard’s accusation of abuse “got the steam it did as fast as it did because of #MeToo.”  

Christina Moore of Maryland also stopped into the courthouse to hear the verdict Wednesday and came away satisfied.

“I do feel he cleared his name," she said of Depp. 

The verdict "confirms what we have said from the beginning, that the claims against Johnny Depp are defamatory and unsupported by any evidence," said Camille Vasquez, who, alongside Ben Chew, represented Depp. Chew said that the case "resonated for so many people in the public who value truth and justice."

But Sydni Porter, another Maryland resident, counts herself a Heard supporter and was disappointed by the verdict. Heard should have gotten more money, Porter said, as “she was more affected.”

The Fairfax, Virginia, jury spent roughly two hours Friday, seven hours Tuesday and four hours Wednesday deliberating the $50 million lawsuit brought by Depp. The “Pirates of the Caribbean” star claims he was defamed by an op-ed Heard wrote in The Washington Post in December 2018. In the article, she described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.”

The seven jurors also considered a $100 million counterclaim filed by Heard, who portrays Mera in “Aquaman.” She claimed she was defamed by Depp and one of his attorneys, Adam Waldman, who described her accusations of abuse as a hoax.

Heard first made abuse charges public in May 2016, when she went to a courthouse in Los Angeles to take out a restraining order against Depp, then her husband. Months later, she voluntarily dismissed the restraining order and left the marriage with a $7 million settlement.

In deliberations for Depp's case, jurors examined three statements from Heard’s op-ed:

–“Amber Heard: 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 ultimately found all three statements by Heard defamed Depp and were made with actual malice.

In debating Heard’s counterclaim, the jury considered three statements made by Waldman:

– "Amber Heard and her friends in the media used fake sexual violence allegations as both sword and shield, depending on their needs. They have selected some of her sexual violence hoax ‘facts’ as the sword, inflicting them on the public and Mr. Depp.”

– "Quite simply this was an ambush, a hoax. They set Mr. Depp up by calling the cops but the first attempt didn’t do the trick. The officers came to the penthouses, thoroughly searched and interviewed, and left after seeing no damage to face or property. So, Amber and her friends spilled a little wine and roughed the place up, got their stories straight under the direction of a lawyer and publicist, and then placed a second call to 911.”

 – “We have reached the beginning of the end of Ms. Heard’s abuse hoax against Johnny Depp.”

Jurors found only the second statement by Waldman defamed Heard and was made with actual malice.

Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Penney Azcarate’s instructions to the jurors directed the five men and two women to consider who made or published the statements; whether anyone other than Depp or Heard saw the statements; whether the statements contained a defamatory implication; whether the implication was false; and whether the statements were made with actual malice. 

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