A psychologist told jurors on Tuesday that Amber Heard suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of ex-husband Johnny Depp.
Dawn Hughes testified that she had diagnosed Heard after examining her for 29 hours and reviewing therapy records, and that she had concluded that Depp engaged in a “high degree of violence.” Hughes recounted numerous instances of alleged sexual violence, which she said were motivated by Depp’s “obsessive jealousy” and a desire to show dominance.
Hughes was the first witness called by Heard’s attorneys, as they began their defense in a $50 million defamation trial in Fairfax, Va. They are seeking to counter the image presented by Depp’s lawyers, who portrayed Heard as the abuser in their relationship, and maintained that Depp would retreat whenever she instigated fights.
“When Mr. Depp was drunk or high, he threw her on bed, ripped off her nightgown and tried to have sex with her,” Hughes testified.
Hughes also referenced incidents in which Depp allegedly penetrated Heard with his fingers and, on one occasion, with a bottle. She said Depp showed particular jealousy regarding James Franco, with whom he believed Heard was having a relationship.
“These incidents often happened in a drug-fueled rage,” she said.
Heard is expected to give a fuller account of the alleged abuse when she takes the witness stand on Wednesday.
Hughes was called to rebut the testimony of Shannon Curry, a psychologist called by Depp’s team last week, who told the jury that Heard suffered from borderline personality disorder. Curry examined Heard for 12 hours on Depp’s behalf, and testified that Heard was prone to give “overly dramatic” statements and was “full of rage.”
Hughes said she disagreed with Curry’s diagnosis. She said, in her examination, Heard’s symptoms were consistent with a victim of intimate partner violence. Hughes also noted that Heard had suffered from parental abuse as a child, and carried over some of those dynamics in her relationship with Depp.
“She also believed she could fix him, just like she tried to fix her father,” Hughes said. “She truly believed she could fix Mr. Depp and rid him of his substance abuse problems, but that did not work.”
Hughes also testified that Depp exerted “coercive control” over Heard, and was focused on controlling her career.
“‘Ambition’ was a weaponized term in that relationship,” Hughes said.
Curry also testified that Heard suffered from histrionic personality disorder, which she said was marked by “drama and shallowness,” and “extreme discomfort with not being the center of attention.” Curry also stated that Heard did not suffer from PTSD.
Depp’s side presented testimony from a couples therapist, Laurel Anderson, who said they engaged in “mutual abuse.” Hughes argued that while both parties may engage in verbal or physical abuse, it’s also important to look at the balance of power in the relationship.
“What the research talks about very clearly is you have to examine context,” Hughes said. “You have to examine the differential of power and control — and coercive control — in the relationship to make a full determination.”
In a pre-trial motion, Heard’s lawyers sought to have an independent mental examination of Depp. Depp’s attorneys opposed that motion, arguing that Depp’s mental state is not at issue. The judge denied the motion.