Entertainment Johnny Depp’s defamation trial has concluded. This is what’s at stake for the Hollywood couple
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Johnny Depp’s defamation trial has concluded. This is what’s at stake for the Hollywood couple

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Seven civil jurors will decide the reputations and fortunes of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp when they return to a Fairfax County courthouse this week to continue their deliberations.

Much is on the line for Hollywood actors Depp and ex-wife Heard, who both say their duelling defamation claims have taken a toll on their mental health and livelihoods.

The jurors who will decide the case were excused on May 27 local time as they began the arduous task of going through six weeks of evidence.

Because they were unable to reach a verdict by 5.15pm that day, they were sent home, and the so-called “trial of the century” was adjourned over the US Memorial Day long weekend.

When they return the jury will determine how late they deliberate each day and alert the deputy [of the court] “when they have reached a unanimous verdict”, read the official advisory from the County sheriff’s office.

“Court TV [the pool camera operator] will continue to provide a live feed until the verdict is read in court … The court will send an alert to media once a verdict is reached.”

Meanwhile, Depp has caught the attention of cameras outside the courtroom by giving a surprise performance of Marvin Gaye and Jimi Hendrix covers when he took to the stage alongside rocker Jeff Beck.

What happens next

As millions of people watched the live-stream of the trial, hearing shocking allegations of mutual domestic abuse, drug and alcohol-fuelled arguments and intimate details of their toxic marriage, one thing was made clear during closing arguments on Saturday (AEST) from both legal teams.

  • Depp, 58, and Heard, 36, want their lives back
  • How do they do it?
  • What’s at stake here for both actors?
  • And what prospects do they have of redemption in the eyes of Hollywood and the court of public opinion?
johnny depp
Depp blows a kiss to fans as the defamation case he brought against ex-wife Amber Heard concludes and jury deliberations began. Photo: Getty

Closing arguments

The jury now has to decide whether Amber Heard, in a 2018 Washington Post opinion piece, defamed Depp, in which she said she was a “public figure representing domestic abuse”.

The article never mentioned Depp by name, but his lawyer Camille Vasquez told jurors it was clear that Heard was referring to him.

Depp, once among Hollywood’s biggest stars, said Heard’s allegations cost him “everything”. He is seeking damages of $US50 million ($70 million).

A new Pirates of the Caribbean movie starring Depp was put on hold (after he had made four films in the franchise, amassing a fortune for both himself and the studio).

Depp was also replaced in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, a Harry Potter spinoff.

She said Heard’s allegations of abuse by Depp, including a sexual assault with a liquor bottle, were “wild, over-the-top and implausible” and had ruined his reputation in Hollywood and among fans.

“We ask you to give Mr Depp his life back by telling the world Mr Depp is not the abuser Ms Heard says he is,” Ms Vasquez said.

Heard, 36, countersued for $US100 million ($140 million), saying Depp smeared her when his lawyer called her accusations a “hoax”.

Heard’s attorneys argued she told the truth and her opinion was protected free speech under the US Constitution’s First Amendment.

“Your key question to answer is ‘does the First Amendment give Ms Heard the right to write the words she wrote?’” Benjamin Rottenborn said to the jury.

“You cannot simultaneously uphold the First Amendment and find in favour of Johnny Depp.”

Member of Johnny Depp’s legal team gather in the courtroom after closing arguments as the jury began deliberations. Photo: AAP

Mr Rottenborn reminded jurors of explicit text messages from Depp to friends or associates.

In one, Depp called Heard a “filthy whore” and said he wanted her dead.

“This is a window into the heart and mind of America’s favourite pirate,” Mr Rottenborn said.

“This is the real Johnny Depp.”

Read the 38 pages of jury instructions here

Heard hugs her attorney Elaine Bredehoft in the courtroom after her closing arguments. Photo: AAP

What’s at stake for both Depp and Heard?

Despite the trial turning into a spectacle, revealing a drug-and-alcohol-fuelled toxic marriage using explicit text messages, graphic photographs and videos, Depp is hoping the trial will help restore his reputation.

Another member of his legal team, Benjamin Chew, told the jury “this case for Mr Depp has never been about money”.

“It is about Mr Depp’s reputation and freeing him from the prison in which he has lived for the last six years.”

When Heard took the stand as the final witness in the trial, she said she hoped the lawsuit will allow her to regain her voice, and said she had the “right as an American” to publish an article that described her experiences and how they relate to the national debate over domestic violence.

“Johnny has taken enough of my voice,” she said.

“I have the right to tell my story.”

Mr Rottenborn told jurors that if Depp failed to prove he never abused Heard, she wins the case.

“Mr Depp simply cannot prove to you that he never once abused Amber,” he said.

‘”A ruling against Amber here sends the message that no matter what you do as an abuse victim, you always have to do more. No matter what you document, you always have to document more.

“No matter who you tell, you always have to tell more people. No matter how honest you are about your own imperfections and your own shortcomings in a relationship, you need to be perfect in order for people to believe you.

“Don’t send that message,” he said.

Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean and Heard as Mera in Aquaman. Photo: TND, IMDb

What happens to their careers?

Debate will now centre on the future of Hollywood heavyweight Depp, who once commanded $20 million for a movie.

Will the big studios hire him, or does he make smaller, independent films for a while until the dust settles?

The court heard from people like his former manager Tracey Jacobs, a top agent at United Talent Agency, who represented Depp for 30 years until he fired her – and his long-time lawyer and management firm – in 2016.

Jacobs testified that over the past 10 years Depp showed up late to set and got a reputation that made it harder to get jobs for him, she said.

“Initially crews loved him,” she said. “He was always so great with the crew. But crews don’t love sitting around for hours and hours and hours waiting for the star to show up.”

Jacobs also indicated that Depp’s image has been harmed by the series of lawsuits he has filed.

“These lawsuits don’t help,” she said. “It’s endless.”

Heard’s career is equally on tenterhooks, with a change.org petition, receiving more than 4.4 million signatures, demanding she be replaced in the 2023 Aquaman sequel.

Entertainment agent Darryl Marshak, who has represented stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Hilary Swank, told CNN on May 29: “When you air your dirty laundry in front of the machine, the executives, all the people that make the parts move, they sort of recoil from a hot flame.”

He said he believes Depp’s “unbelievable talent” will help him return to movie screens.

“Hollywood is also forgiving and as it moves forward and this thing stops airing and Johnny is able to move fluidly back into the business. I think he’ll re-emerge again,” he said.

“Hollywood is a fickle place.”

-with AAP