Photo: AP Photo/Frank Augstein.
Photo: AP Photo/Frank Augstein.
Created: July 28, 2020 08:36 AM
Johnny Depp's libel case against a British tabloid that accused him of abusing ex-wife Amber Heard was wrapping up Tuesday, with the star's lawyer insisting Depp had never hit a woman and branding Heard "a compulsive liar."
The "Pirates of the Caribbean" star is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the newspaper's executive editor, Dan Wootton, at the High Court in London over an April 2018 article that called him a "wife-beater."
In closing arguments at the three-week trial, Depp's lawyer, David Sherborne, said the actor strongly denied "this reputation-destroying, career-ending allegation."
"He has never hit a woman in his entire life — period, full stop, nada," Sherborne said.
Judge Andrew Nicol will retire later to consider his verdict. He is expected to hand down his ruling in several weeks.
WHAT IS THE JUDGE DECIDING?
Neither Depp nor Heard is on trial, though it has been easy to forget that during a case that dissected their toxic celebrity love affair.
Depp is the claimant in the civil case, NGN and Wootton are the defendants and Heard is their main witness. To defeat Depp's libel claim, the newspaper must persuade the judge that, on the balance of probabilities, its story was accurate.
NGN's lawyer, Sasha Wass, said in her summing-up that there was no doubt Depp "regularly and systematically abused his wife" and so the "wife-beater" label was justified.
But Sherborne said The Sun's article — which urged J.K. Rowling to have Depp fired from the movie version of her book "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them" — gave the false impression Depp had been "tried, convicted and sentenced" for domestic violence, and compared him to former film mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has been jailed for sex offenses.
"Acting as both judge and jury, the defendants plainly and squarely state that Mr. Depp is guilty (of a) series of serious and violent criminal offenses," he said.
WHAT IS IN DISPUTE?
The two sides agree that the relationship between Depp and Heard, which began after they met on the set of 2011 comedy "The Rum Diary," soured long before they divorced in 2017. Texts, emails and recordings attest to the increasingly bitter relations between Depp, now 57, and the 34-year-old model and actress.
But they disagree completely over who started and escalated their fights.
Heard claims Depp turned into a violent alter ego he called "The Monster" under the influence of alcohol and drugs. She alleges 14 separate incidents in which he hit, slapped and shoved her, pulled her hair and threw bottles at her "like grenades." The judge was shown photos of Heard with black eyes, red marks on her face and an injured scalp — alleged evidence of Depp's violence.
Depp called the allegations a "hoax" and claimed that Heard hit him, even severing the tip of his finger with a thrown vodka bottle. Under cross-examination Depp admitted headbutting Heard during a tussle, but said it was by accident as he tried to stop her punching him.
Heard acknowledged having a short temper and said she punched Depp once in March 2015. But she said it was to prevent him hitting her sister.
Sherborne accused Heard of repeatedly changing her story during the trial, and said that during a "moment of unscripted malevolence" in the witness box, she'd made up a rumor that Depp had pushed former girlfriend Kate Moss down some stairs.
The lawyer said Heard was "a wholly unreliable witness and frankly a compulsive liar — and I don't say that lightly."
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
The trial has provided an up-close and often unflattering look at Hollywood stardom, revealing details of Depp's life of wealth, luxury, emotional turmoil and substance abuse.
Depp acknowledged heavy drug use, saying he took marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and magic mushrooms, and became addicted to opioid painkillers. But he denied drugs made him violent.
The couple's relationship disintegrated against a glamorous international backdrop. Depp's private island in the Bahamas, a Los Angeles penthouse, a luxury train and a private jet were all locations for violence, according to Heard.
Depp said in the witness box that he had made $650 million since he joined the lucrative "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise — and ended up $100 million in debt after his financial advisers neglected to pay his taxes for 17 years. He said his major expenses included $5 million to send the ashes of his literary hero, drug-fueled journalist Hunter S. Thompson, into space.
The couple's relationship also left a costly trail of destruction. Damage to a rented house in Australia after one altercation was estimated at more than $100,000. The couple's downtown L.A. penthouse was trashed during another argument. At one point, excrement was left in their bed — whether by a dog or a person is disputed.
WHO ARE THE WINNERS AND LOSERS?
British libel law is widely considered to favor claimants over defendants, but Depp could end up a loser even if he wins.
Depp said he sued The Sun because his career had been harmed by Heard's allegations. But the lawsuit has given the claims a huge global audience.
"It almost beggars belief that anyone rational has taken this case to court," said Mark Stephens, a media lawyer at legal firm Howard Kennedy. "Now, I know that many people say it's all about vindication. It's all about proving he's not a wife beater. But the stakes are very, very high for everybody. And at some level, mud sticks."
Heard also has had her character questioned and has been accused of fabricating evidence. A #MeToo activist, Katherine Kendall, alleged that Heard appropriated a violent rape that happened to Kendall for her own ends.
Heard has faced abuse from Depp fans on social media. Depp's supporters have also been a regular noisy presence outside court, with some holding signs reading "Justice for Johnny."
WILL THE VERDICT BE THE END OF THE STORY?
Not likely. Depp is suing Heard for $50 million in Virginia over a Washington Post story about domestic violence. The trial is due to be held next year.
Stephens said that if Depp "loses in London, he's almost certain to lose that American case. So this is in some ways a dress rehearsal for the second case."
(Copyright 2020 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)