The high-profile Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard defamation trial came to a close with the jury unanimously siding with the Pirates of the Caribbean star. On June 1, jurors ruled that Heard defamed Depp through her 2018 Washington Post op-ed, where she claimed to be a survivor of domestic abuse.
Depp won all of his claims and was awarded $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages (the latter reduced to $350,000 per Virginia Law). Meanwhile, Heard was awarded $2 million for winning a claim about Depp’s lawyer Adam Waldman defaming her through his past statements.
The case came to an end with the court ordering Heard to pay $10.35 million to her ex-husband. The latest legal settlement between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard came after the former lost the 2020 UK defamation trial against The Sun newspaper.
At the time, Johnny Depp sued News Group Newspapers (NGN) and former executive editor Dan Wootton for libel after The Sun referred to him as a “wife beater” in an article while criticizing his casting in the Fantastic Beasts franchise.
Contrary to the US defamation trial, Depp lost his case against the publication in the UK. A London court rejected Depp’s defamation lawsuit and ruled that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents noted by the newspaper, while mentioning Depp’s treatment of Heard, were “proven to a civil standard.”
Johnny Depp also appealed to overturn the verdict but remained unsuccessful in his attempt. Shortly after the ruling, the actor stepped down from Fantastic Beasts.
A look into the differences between the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard UK and US trials
Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard’s historic defamation trial concluded with the former winning the case on Wednesday. However, the actor lost a similar trial against The Sun newspaper in the UK in 2020.
Although the key element in the two trials was Heard’s abuse allegations against Depp, the subjects were different. In the UK trial, Depp filed a defamation lawsuit against The Sun, which is considered to be the biggest tabloid in the country.
The Sun defended its article that referred to Depp as a “wife beater” by citing the abuse allegations Heard made while filing a divorce from Depp in 2016. Although the publication received support from Heard and her legal team, Depp did not sue the actress herself.
However, in the US trial, Depp directly sued Heard for libel over her 2018 Washington Post article. The actor did not file a lawsuit against the publication, but Heard, and based his claims against three statements where she called herself a domestic violence survivor.
Another significant difference between the UK and US trials were the decision makers. In the UK, the decision was made by London’s High Court Judge Andrew Nichol, who published his ruling in a 67,000-word document.
The verdict in the US was made by a seven-body jury consisting of two women and five men, who deliberated in private for three days. While the UK judge believed Heard’s claims abuse Depp being an alleged abuser, US jurors rejected her claims.
Another common issue that was prominent in both the trials revolved around Heard’s $7 million divorce settlement from Depp. During the UK trial, Judge Nichol said Heard did not profit off the divorce and will be donating her money to the ACLU and a Los Angeles children’s hospital.
However, during cross-examination in the US trial, Heard admitted that she was yet to donate the money to charity. The Aquaman star said she still wanted to donate the sum but had to pause due to Depp’s lawsuit.
It was also revealed that nearly $1.3 million were donated in Heard’s name, but only $350,000 came from the actress, as the remaining amounts of $100,000 and $500,000 came from Depp and Elon Musk, respectively.
Why did Johnny Depp win the US defamation trial?
Prior to the start of the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard defamation trial, several experts claimed that the Edward Scissorhands actor had a lower chance of winning the lawsuit. However, when Depp won the lawsuit against Heard, experts opined that the jury did not believe the latter’s testimony.
International media lawyer Mark Stephens told the BBC that getting the same case with different results in two different countries was “very rare.” He then said that the main factor behind the US ruling was that the trial happened in front of a jury:
"Amber Heard has comprehensively lost in the court of public opinion, and in front of the jury.”
He also said that Depp’s strong legal team also contributed to the US verdict:
“Heard’s team were not predominantly trained libel lawyers and they were outgunned at every corner. They were up against a very strong team for Depp.”
Certain claims were also made about the presence of “Darvo’ techniques when the accusations against the alleged offender are reversed on the alleged accuser. Jennifer Freyd, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon also referred to the impact of social media on the US trial:
“What we have witnessed in the US over this case has been an overwhelming case for Depp on social media. It is like an anti-Heard campaign and there has been a lot of Darvo.”
Meanwhile, Amber Heard’s lawyer Elaine Bredehoft appeared on the Today show and claimed that a lot of evidence were “suppressed” in the US trial:
“We had an enormous amount of evidence that was suppressed in this case that was in the UK case. In the UK case when it came in, Amber won and Mr. Depp lost.”
The lawyer also mentioned that Heard’s team were planning to appeal the verdict in the days to come. Meanwhile, Johnny Depp issued a statement saying that the US verdict gave him his “life” back.