Johnny Depp trial: Ten moments that defined the Depp-Heard trial

By Holly Honderich
BBC News

  • Published
Johnny Depp looks on as Amber Heard takes the standImage source, Reuters

On Wednesday, jurors returned a verdict in the high-profile defamation case that has been fought for over a month between actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in the US state of Virginia.

For six weeks, the court heard the tawdry details of Mr Depp and Ms Heard's volatile relationship, and its ultimate, unhappy end.

Mr Depp sued his ex-wife for defamation over an opinion article she wrote for the Washington Post, alleging she was a domestic abuse victim, though it did not mention him by name. Ms Heard counter-sued.

Jurors awarded Mr Depp - who denied abusing Ms Heard - $15m (£12m) in compensatory and punitive damages.

Ms Heard won one of three counter-claims against Mr Depp and was awarded $2m in compensatory damages.

Here is a look back at 10 key moments from court, which helped define this closely watched stand-off.

This story contains descriptions of violence readers may find upsetting.

'Mutual abuse'

To some observers, the relationship between Ms Heard and Mr Depp could be summed up in these two words: mutual abuse.

This was the description used by clinical psychologist Laurel Anderson, Ms Heard and Mr Depp's former marriage counsellor.

Called to the stand by Mr Depp's team, Dr Anderson described a volatile relationship, with both parties threatening to walk out of sessions amid arguments. But in Dr Anderson's view, Ms Heard was often the instigator of these fights.

Mr Depp had been "well controlled" for decades before meeting Ms Heard, Dr Anderson said, and did not engage in violence with past partners. "With Ms Heard, he was triggered. They engaged in what I saw as mutual abuse," she told the jury.

On more than one occasion Ms Heard initiated violent interactions in an effort to prevent Mr Depp from leaving, she said.

"It was a point of pride to her, if she felt disrespected, to initiate a fight," the court heard.

Image source, Getty Images

'Burn Amber'

Over four days of testimony, Mr Depp was pressed on a number of his text messages and emails featuring graphic insults of his ex-wife.

In one instance, he was asked about a 2013 text exchange with British actor Paul Bettany.

"Let's burn her," Mr Depp had written, referring to Ms Heard. "Let's drown her before we burn her". He then made a further obscene suggestion "to make sure she is dead".

The actor told jurors he was "ashamed" of the messages, and that they were an attempt at humour based on a Monty Python sketch.

"This is a film we'd all watch when we were 10 - it's just irreverent and abstract humour," he said.

Personality disorders or post traumatic stress?

Called to the stand by Mr Depp's team, forensic psychologist Dr Shannon Curry told jurors she believed Amber Heard suffered from twin diagnoses: borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder.

Dr Curry said she had reached her conclusion after spending about 12 hours with Ms Heard in December 2021, conducting mental health tests and reviewing her medical records.

Borderline personality is a disease of instability, Dr Curry said, marked by "a lot of anger, cruelty toward people less powerful and attention seeking".

The behaviours are "driven by an underlying fear of abandonment", she said, following audio shared in court of Ms Heard begging Mr Depp not to leave her.

Media caption,

Psychologist says Amber Heard has two personality disorders

But Dr Curry's diagnoses were rejected by psychologist Dr Dawn Hughes, who was called by Ms Heard's team. Instead, Dr Hughes diagnosed Ms Heard with post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by "intimate partner violence by Mr Depp".

Rampant substance abuse

Throughout the trial, jurors heard two competing accounts of Mr Depp's substance use.

To hear Mr Depp tell it, he was sober for much of his relationship with Ms Heard after detoxing from the opioid Oxycodone in 2014.

But Ms Heard's described a different Mr Depp - one prone to alcohol and drug binges despite her repeated pleas for him to get clean. According to Ms Heard, Mr Depp frequently abused alcohol, cocaine and painkillers.

"He would pass out, get sick, lose control of himself," she said.

According to testimony, this behaviour occurred in front of Mr Depp's children. In one instance raised at trial, the long-time manager of the actor's private island in the Bahamas said she recalled seeing Mr Depp passed out in the sand in front of his son.

Mr Depp rejected Ms Heard's account of his drug use, saying her characterisation was "grossly embellished" and "plainly false". His team pointed out that she also drank and sometimes used drugs.

Who is 'the Monster'?

It depends who is asked. Again, jurors were presented two very different pictures of the trial's central characters.

Ms Heard told the court the 'Monster' was the dark side of her ex-husband, the volatile and violent version of him, who emerged when Mr Depp was drunk or high.

Text messages sent by Mr Depp to staff and friends seemed to support this description. "Amber and I have been absolutely perfect... I have locked my monster child away in a cage deep within and it has worked," he wrote on one occasion.

But while on the stand, Mr Depp said the "monster" was a phrase he used just to mollify his then-wife in an attempt to avoid conflict.

Asked why he used the phrase himself, he responded: "Because I heard it all the time."

Image source, Reuters

Depp testifies he 'never' hit Heard

While on the stand, Mr Depp rejected his former partner's claims of abuse outright, telling jurors he had "never struck Ms Heard in that way, nor have I struck any woman in my life".

Instead, Mr Depp alleged that he suffered at the hands of Ms Heard, who abused and demeaned him.

"It could begin with a slap, it could begin with a shove. it could begin with throwing a TV remote at my head," he said. "She [Ms Heard] has a need for conflict, she has a need for violence. It erupts out of nowhere".

Mr Depp's team used Ms Heard's own words - audio recordings and handwritten notes - to underline these claims.

In one recording, Ms Heard can be heard admitting to "hitting" Mr Depp, before mocking him and calling him a baby. And in a letter to Mr Depp she apologised for getting "crazy".

"I'm sorry I hurt you," Ms Heard wrote. "I can get wicked when I'm hurt".

A doomed trip to Australia

Jurors heard several accounts - some overlapping, many contradictory - of a 2015 trip to Australia, where Mr Depp was shooting a film for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

According Mr Depp, he lost the tip of his middle finger during an explosive fight with his then-wife, when she threw a vodka bottle at him, which smashed.

Mr Depp told jurors he went into shock and used blood from his injury to write messages to Heard on the wall. "I don't know what a nervous breakdown feels like, but that's probably the closest I've ever been," he said.

Ms Heard denied injuring his finger and said Mr Depp sexually assaulted her that night with a liquor bottle.

A surgeon called by Ms Heard's team also disputed Mr Depp's account, saying his description of events was unlikely, in large part because his fingernail remained in tact. Dr Richard Moore said that if events occurred like Mr Depp had described, his fingernail would have been damaged by the bottle.

An unlikely star

While Mr Depp and Ms Heard brought an unusual amount of star power to the Fairfax courthouse, it was Mr Depp's lawyer, Camille Vasquez, who turned out to be the trial's breakout star.

Image source, Getty Images

The young lawyer from California caught the attention of millions amid the defamation trial. T-shirts adorned with her name and hashtags praising her made the rounds on social media.

Ms Vasquez's sharp style became especially apparent in her cross-examination of Amber Heard. Exchanges between the two occasionally turned tense.

In one instance, the two sparred over an image of spilled wine. It is one of several pictures Ms Heard has presented, allegedly from a huge fight the couple had in 2016 which ended with Mr Depp assaulting her. During Ms Vasquez's questioning, Ms Heard turned to jurors and claimed the photos had been redacted or edited by Mr Depp's lawyers to benefit her ex-husband's case.

"I'd appreciate if you wouldn't be making arguments to the jury," Ms Vasquez said sternly. "I didn't ask you about anything".

Kate Moss makes rare court appearance

British supermodel Kate Moss was a last-minute addition to the witness list.

Ms Moss, who was in a relationship with Mr Depp between 1994 and 1998, was called by the actor's team in the last week of trial to rebut a rumour invoked by Ms Heard suggesting that her ex-husband had shoved the model down the stairs in the 1990s.

Ms Heard had described a fight in 2015 with Mr Depp in which she said she hit Mr Depp because he had swung at her sister while she was standing at the top of a staircase.

"I just, in my head, instantly think of Kate Moss and the stairs and I swung at him," Ms Heard said.

In her brief testimony over video call, Ms Moss denied that Mr Depp had ever pushed her down the stairs.

"There had been a rainstorm and as I left the room I slid down the stairs and I hurt my back," Ms. Moss said. "He came running back to help me and carried me to my room and got me medical attention."

"He never pushed me, kicked me or threw me down any stairs," Ms. Moss said.

Media caption,

Watch Kate Moss testify: "Did Mr Depp push you down the stairs?"

'Hundreds of death threats'

On the last day of testimony, Ms Heard delivered emotional testimony about the harassment she said she has endured following her divorce from Mr Depp.

"I receive hundreds of death threats regularly if not daily. Thousands since this trial has started. People mocking, mocking my testimony about being assaulted," she said. "Every single day I have to relive the trauma".

She called the court case "horrible" and "humiliating".

"Perhaps it's easy to forget, but I am a human being," she said. "As I stand here today, I can't have a career. I can't even have people associate with me because of the threats and the attacks that they will have to endure".