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Jury selection underway in Johnny Depp, Amber Heard defamation trial

Anxious to get a glimpse of two A-list stars at the center of a highly anticipated defamation trial, spectators gathered outside a Virginia courthouse Monday morning.

FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — A loyal following of Johnny Depp's supporters clustered outside the Fairfax County Judicial Center in northern Virginia on Monday morning, waving flags with skulls and crossbones to wish the “Pirates of the Caribbean” actor well on the first day of his defamation trial against his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard.     

Monday marked the beginning of jury selection for the $50 million lawsuit Depp filed more than three years ago against the "Aquaman" actress over an article she wrote in The Washington Post. And while it will be some time before a decision is handed down, some Depp fans already had a verdict in mind.

“I believe him,” said Raylyn Otey, a waitress who drove five hours from Bluefield, Virginia, and paid $150 to stay in a hotel so that she could give Depp a bouquet of flowers. Along with roughly 75 other supporters, she waited for Depp to arrive on the grass in front of the courthouse.

Inside, prospective jurors were gathered for the trial stemming from Depp’s claim that he was defamed by a 2018 editorial in which Heard described herself as survivor of domestic abuse. The article’s focus was on supporting women who speak out about abuse – not on her short marriage. Though the piece never mentioned Depp, it referred to a period in which Heard was married to him. Days after the article was published in the Post, Disney fired Depp from his "Pirates" role. He filed the lawsuit in Virginia because the newspaper is printed there and its online edition is created on a digital platform in the state.

Heard’s legal team contends that Depp assaulted her and that she feared for her life. As their 15-month marriage ended in 2016, she appeared in a California court with a bruised face and took out a temporary restraining order against Depp.

In his lawsuit, Depp’s lawyers argue that Heard was the aggressor and that she attacked Depp during their marriage. He is asking for $50 million in damages. Heard, who has filed a counterclaim, wants $100 million.

“I feel bad for Johnny,” said Brittany Leggott of northern Virginia, who showed up in front of the courthouse Monday morning. “He lost his career. When allegations [of abuse] came out about [Heard] nobody really did anything. So it just seems like a double standard.”

Among the crowd, some circulated handouts stating that online companies and services were being used to hurt Heard's reputation. But for the most part, the crowd was comprised of Depp fans. Some held posters that said, “Wish he’d never Heard,” and “Justice for Johnny." One fan handed out pirate flags as if attending a movie opening.

But those waiting for Depp to be driven to the front courthouse door were disappointed. The actor was apparently hustled into another door. Otey, the waitress from Bluefield, left mid-morning, clutching the flowers she’d planned to give the actor.

Depp could not have stopped to talk to her anyhow. Chief Circuit Court Judge Penney Azcarate, who is presiding over the case, handed down an order before the trial that says “litigants and their legal teams in this trial will not pose for pictures or sign autographs in the courthouse or on courthouse grounds.”

There are other rules, too. In order to sit in the courtroom, spectators must receive a wristband from deputies. Jennifer Bowers and her daughter Katie, an aspiring lawyer, drove in from North Carolina. They arrived early, but not early enough to be issued the wristbands necessary to sit in a courtroom and watch attorneys interview prospective jurors. When the trial gets underway, it will be shown on Court TV.

This is the second trial in which Depp contends he was defamed by false charges of domestic violence. He also brought a libel suit against a newspaper in England after a 2018 article described him as a wifebeater. He lost that case.

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