After losing in a U.K. court in 2020, Johnny Depp will get a second chance to try to refute allegations that he abused ex-wife Amber Heard at a trial opening today in Virginia.
Depp sued Heard in 2019 over an op-ed she published in the Washington Post in which she alluded to prior allegations against Depp, saying she had become “a public figure representing domestic abuse.”
She did not identify Depp by name in the op-ed or go into any details of the abuse, instead focusing on the backlash she had endured since making the claims in 2016 and the work still remaining for the #MeToo movement. But those six words prompted a $50 million claim from Depp, whose attorneys accused her of orchestrating an elaborate hoax in order to cripple his career. That allegation — that she had concocted a hoax — in turn led her to file a $100 million counterclaim.
Over the next six weeks, jurors in Fairfax, Va. — about 20 miles outside of Washington, D.C. — will hear witness testimony and review texts and photographs, and will ultimately have to decide who is telling the truth. Jury selection begins today and opening statements could be heard on Tuesday.
The trial will be broadcast on Court TV, and is expected to cause a media frenzy outside the Fairfax County Courthouse, where spectators will be lining up early in the morning to claim one of the few seats in Courtroom 5J. Judge Penney Azcarate has already forbidden spectators from camping out overnight on the courthouse grounds.
For Depp, the trial represents perhaps a last opportunity to salvage his career. He denies Heard’s allegations and claims that she is the one who abused him.
In June 2018, he sued The Sun newspaper in the United Kingdom over an article that described him as a “wife beater.” The Sun prevailed in that case, as Judge Andrew Nicol held that the paper’s characterization was “substantially true.” The trial included several days of testimony from both Depp and Heard, covering 14 separate incidents of alleged abuse.
“I accept her evidence of the nature of the assaults he committed against her,” the judge wrote in November 2020. “They must have been terrifying. I accept that Mr. Depp put her in fear of her life.”
The judge said he believed Heard’s account of a trip to Australia in March 2015, during filming of the last “Pirates of the Caribbean” installment, in which she alleged that he repeatedly assaulted her, and grabbed her by the neck, and left her with cuts on her arms. Depp also cut his finger and wrote messages in his blood, according to the trial testimony.
In another incident, the judge found that Depp had head-butted Heard and grabbed out clumps of her hair in December 2015. The judge also credited an allegation that Depp had pushed Heard against a wall and grabbed her by the throat while they were traveling on a train in Southeast Asia.
Days after the verdict, Depp was dropped from the third installment of the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise. He had already been dropped from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.
In light of the U.K. ruling, Heard’s lawyers sought to dismiss the case in Virginia. But Azcarate rejected that motion, noting the vast differences between libel laws in the U.S. and the U.K. and arguing that it would set a “dangerous precedent” for a U.S. court to recognize a British libel ruling.
But Heard’s lawyers will be able to invoke Virginia’s anti-SLAPP law, which is intended to shut down frivolous litigation on matters of public concern. Depp’s lawyers have argued that the law does not apply, because Heard’s claims pertain to Depp’s personal behavior and not to a broader issue.
Update, 1 p.m. Monday: Eleven jurors have been selected, and the trial will commence on Tuesday morning.