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In his opening statement, Amber Heard’s attorney warned jurors that Johnny Depp’s lawyers were looking to turn his Virginia defamation trial into a soap opera. The attorney, Ben Rottenborn, said the case was not about “who you like more,” or “which party can sling more mud.” Instead, he said it was about the evidence and the law, and whether Depp could meet his legal burden to show that Heard had defamed him.

“He can’t come close to doing that,” Rottenborn predicted. “The evidence isn’t pretty for Mr. Depp.”

Seven weeks later, however, the jury issued a unanimous verdict in favor of Depp. The seven jurors found by “clear and convincing” evidence that Heard had lied about him when she wrote a 2018 op-ed in the Washington Post, describing herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” They also ruled in Heard’s favor on one of three counterclaims, but the overall result was a lopsided win for Depp. Depp was awarded $15 million — pared back to $10.35 million under Virginia’s punitive damages cap — while Heard was granted just $2 million.

“What the jury said was, ‘Both of you did bad things,'” said Lawrence McClafferty, a trial lawyer based in Fairfax, Va. “But their view is that what she did is an order of magnitude worse.”

As Rottenborn predicted, the evidence was not pretty, for either side. Jurors were shown text messages in which Depp called her a “cunt” and a “filthy whore” and said he wanted to drown her and “fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.” They heard testimony about Depp’s substance abuse, saw pictures of both actors with bruises on their faces — which each said was the result of blows from the other — and of trashed apartments and rental homes, and heard audio recordings of intimate and brutal arguments that were never intended for public consumption.

In 2020, Judge Andrew Nicol reviewed much of the same evidence in the United Kingdom and ruled in favor of Heard, finding that her allegations were “substantially true.”

But in Virginia, the jury was more persuaded by Depp’s account. In four days of testimony, Depp told the jury that while he and Heard had argued, and he had sometimes expressed “dark humor,” he had never hit her, and would never hit any woman.

“It’s insane to hear heinous accusations of violence — sexual violence — that she’s attributed to me,” Depp said on the stand last week. “No human being is perfect. Certainly not. None of us. But I have never in my life committed sexual battery, physical abuse.”

Attorneys who followed the case said the outcome largely boiled down to which of the two actors seemed more trustworthy, and that turned out to be Depp.

“Don’t ever underestimate star power in a courtroom. It goes a long way,” said Dave Ring, a trial attorney in Los Angeles. “I don’t care what the law is, what the facts are. If you’ve got a popular celebrity in the courtroom, that person is winning 95% of the time. Look at all his flaws and his bad behavior — the jury didn’t seem to mind that at all.”

Mitra Ahouraian, a Los Angeles attorney who has been commenting on the case for Law & Crime, said that the jurors appear to have agreed with viewers who followed the trial online — the overwhelming majority of whom sided with Depp, and found Heard’s account of often gruesome abuse to be implausible.

“It’s her demeanor more than anything,” Ahouraian said, noting that Heard seemed to cry at odd moments while recounting events that occurred many years ago. “We intuitively feel she was not being honest.”

She said that Depp, by contrast, came off as “authentic” and “natural,” and did a good job of accepting his flaws.

“That’s what made him credible,” she said. “He came off as who he is.”

Valentina Shaknes, an attorney based in New York, said she, too, found Depp to be more sincere and credible than Heard was. But she acknowledged there is an element of performance involved.

“You have two movie stars,” she said. “It’s a contest on which is a better actor. Each accused the other of putting on the show of their lifetime. Is this a verdict on their acting ability?”

She noted that Rottenborn’s comment in his opening statement, in which he said the case is not about which party the jurors liked more, showed that “You’re deeply aware this is a popularity contest.”

Many observers predicted that the jury would find both parties to be so off-putting that they would award nothing to either side. But the verdict — especially the $5 million punitive damages award for Depp — showed that they were far more hostile to Heard.

“The jury didn’t like Amber Heard,” Ring said. “They didn’t like what she did. They didn’t like the version of herself that she brought to trial. And Johnny Depp clearly won.”