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SYFY WIRE Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp wins $15 million verdict in defamation suit against ex-wife Amber Heard

Jury also awards Heard $2 million in countersuit damages against her former spouse.

By Benjamin Bullard
Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp’s legal effort to prove Aquaman star Amber Heard publicly defamed him came to a close in dramatic fashion on Wednesday, with a Virginia civil jury siding with the Pirates of the Caribbean actor on all three of the defamation claims he had asserted against his former spouse.

Touring with his band in Britain, Depp wasn’t present for the live-streamed delivery of the verdict as the jury answered “yes” to each of the defamation-related allegations against Heard that his $50 million lawsuit claimed. After reading each decision in sequence, the jury found Heard liable for $10 million in compensatory damages, as well as an additional $5 million in punitive damages.

Dressed in black, Heard offered no visible response as the jury returned its verdict in the high-profile case, which captivated fans and detractors of both actors over the past six weeks. The trial played out in the Circuit Court of Fairfax County, Va., with testimony from each side yielding insight into each actor’s most recent big-screen projects, including Heard’s ongoing role as Mera in Warner BrosAquaman franchise for DC Entertainment, as well as Depp’s past involvement in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

Though the jury offered a resounding win for Depp in its across-the-board findings that Heard had “acted with actual malice,” according to the charges, in defaming him, he didn’t completely avoid Heard’s $100 million countersuit. The same jury awarded Heard $2 million in compensatory damages that Depp will be ordered to pay — though it awarded no punitive damages against Depp in concluding that defamatory public statements made by Depp’s attorney were similarly delivered “with actual malice.”

Both suits stemmed from public statements made in print and online publications drawing attention to the former married couple’s private squabbles. Depp’s suit focused on a 2018 op-ed penned by Heard in The Washington Post, while Heard’s countersuit targeted an article published in Britain’s Daily Mail in which Depp’s lawyer described Heard’s allegations of abuse against the actor as a hoax.

Though the victory offers Depp vindication among his legion of fans and supporters, the effect the decision will have on his acting career, as well as Heard’s, is difficult to forecast in the immediate aftermath. In testimony, Depp had previously stated he would no longer work with Disney to make another Pirates of the Caribbean film, according to Entertainment Weekly, even as he told the court in other testimony that he’d wanted Pirates swashbuckler Jack Sparrow to end the franchise with a sixth and final film that could send Depp's character out on a high note.

Heard, meanwhile, is already set to reprise her role as Mera in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, Warner Bros.’ followup to the James Wan-directed 2018 smash Aquaman. Heard and DC Films executive Walter Hamada offered conflicting testimony during the trial about how the highly publicized Depp-Heard feud had affected the scope of her role in the sequel: Heard claimed the studio, acting on Depp’s advice, had scaled back her involvement, while Hamada maintained that the movie’s story is a “buddy comedy” that simply emphasizes other characters like Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Patrick Wilson’s Orm over Heard’s secondary character.

Each actor released statements following the verdict. “False, very serious and criminal allegations were levied at me via the media, which triggered an endless barrage of hateful content, although no charges were ever brought against me,” Depp’s statement read, via Deadline. “It had already traveled around the world twice within a nanosecond and it had a seismic impact on my life and my career. And six years later, the jury gave me my life back. I am truly humbled.”

“The disappointment I feel today is beyond words,” Heard said in a post-verdict statement quoted by BBC. “I'm heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband…I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously.”

While Disney hasn’t revealed plans for a sixth and final Pirates film, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is slated to arrive in theaters on March 17 of next year.