The following is a news analysis.
Johnny Depp has become the world’s most famous victim of domestic abuse.
It’s worth noting that the lawsuit Depp filed and won against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, was not foremost about making the case that he was a victim. It was about him trying to disprove Heard’s claims of abuse in order to mitigate reputational damage she caused.
As I watched the Depp v. Heard, the evidence felt like a slam dunk for Depp’s side. Of course that doesn’t mean that it was. It was possible Amber Heard appeared more credible to the jury who could see her testify in person. Maybe what I saw as evasiveness and missteps on her part were seen by the jury as the nerves of a traumatized victim. Maybe, to them, Depp was unlikeable and dishonest. It’s the jury's take that matters.
Read: Depp verdict marks turning point in weaponization of Me Too movement
But after the jury returned a unanimous verdict for Depp on all three statements he claimed were false and defamatory, we can identify some of the evidence and factors they may have found most convincing.
So for those who didn't have the time to watch the trial but are interested in why it came down the way it did...
15 Reasons Why Johnny Depp Won
1. Heard’s Dubious Claims About Missing Photos. Depp’s lawyers questioned Heard as to why she photographed so many things, such as Depp nodding off during opioid use, and damage supposedly done during his (or her) tirades— but not the catastrophic injuries she claimed to frequently suffer. She testified that she did have some photos proving her serious injuries, but that her lawyers “wouldn’t allow” them to be introduced as evidence. “It’s not up to me,” she told the jury, answering why the evidence was not used at trial. Claiming to have the goods, but having them blocked by her own attorneys doesn’t ring true. It certainly raised the idea in my mind that Heard’s own attorneys worried that Heard's self-photos had been doctored. This thought might have occurred to the jurors, too.
2. Kate Moss. One of the most effective witnesses among the many who disputed allegations and implications made by Heard was former Depp girlfriend and British model Kate Moss. Heard had raised the implication that, 25 years ago, Depp injured Moss by pushing her down stairs. But in remote testimony that took less than four minutes, Moss explained that she had slipped on a couple of stairs while running to get under cover in torrential rain at a resort in Jamaica, and that Depp wasn’t even near her when it happened. She testified that Depp ran back to help her when he heard her cry out. Depp added that he carried Moss to her room, and got her medical help for her injured tailbone. Moss told the jury that Depp “never pushed me, kicked me or threw me down any stairs.”
Contrary to Heard's implications, Moss testified Depp “never pushed me, kicked me or threw me down any stairs.”Depp trial testimony
3. Why Now? Depp repeatedly raised what seemed to be a legitimate point. He has acknowledged having serious alcohol and drug abuse problems for years. He has dated a lot of women. It is unlikely, he argued, that he suddenly, in his 50s, started hitting a woman, and “chopping off his digits,” when he’d never been accused of doing such things before.
4. Addiction Doesn’t Prove Physical Abuse. Heard’s team made a strong case that Depp abused alcohol and drugs. But Depp acknowledged those prior addictions upfront. Substance abuse does not automatically convey physical abuse.
5. Psych Out. By claiming psychological damage and post traumatic stress, Heard was required to submit to medical examination. The resulting psychiatric diagnoses, including Borderline Personality and absence of post traumatic stress syndrome, were devastating, even in the context of the exams being conducted by Depp’s expert. Since Depp claimed no psychological damages as part of his lawsuit, he was not required to submit to a psychiatric examination. Speaking of which…
6. 'The Nutty Psychiatrist.’ Without a psychological exam of Depp, Heard’s team tried to tag Depp with various disorders with testimony from a psychiatrist who turned out to be one of their weakest witnesses. In fact, it was during this segment of the trial that I came to suspect Depp would most certainly win, and that he and his team probably felt it. The psychiatrist, Dr. David Spiegel himself looked like a psych patient from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Dishevelment aside, Spiegel became combative and lost his composure under cross-examination. It got so bad— or good if you were on Depp’s side— that even as the doctor rambled outside the scope of a question, Depp’s team repeatedly allowed him to continue digging his own grave. On top of that, the jurors surely noticed Spiegel’s extremely odd tics and mannerisms. One such episode on the stand was so striking, that Depp and his lawyer could be seen doing a WTF double take.
Other bad moments related to the Spiegel testimony include:
7. Doodling and Candy Disorder. Heard attorney Elaine Bredehoft asked Spiegel to confirm that “doodling” and “eating candy” as Depp had done during the long days of trial are signs of an undiagnosed narcissism disorder. Spiegel agreed. I dropped my pen and almost spit out my Lifesavers. I don’t think many people buy the idea that eating candy and doodling during speeches or meetings signals a disorder. It felt as if they were grasping at straws. Surely some jurors had a similar response.
8. ’Is Brando Dead?’ Dr. Spiegel testified that reports of Depp using an earpiece during filming was conclusive evidence of cognitive decline caused by substance abuse. But he also had testified he knew “absolutely nothing” about acting. Then, he had a poor response when Depp’s attorney asked if Spiegel knew whether famed actor Marlon Brando used an earpiece.
“Isn’t he dead?” Spiegel stammered in reply, avoiding the question. He added, “So the answer is no. He doesn’t use one now.”
Depp’s lawyer pointed out, “I used the past tense.”
Spiegel’s wordsmithing evoked an even larger mistake made on Heard’s side, which is the next point below.
9. Pledge≠Donation. We learned during the trial that Heard lied when she pubicly claiming she donated $7 million given to her by Depp to charity. But instead of owning up to the deceit when questioned at trial under oath, she told two more whoppers. Neither was convincing.
First, she pretended not to know the difference between a pledge or promise to donate money— and the actual donation of the money. No matter how many times Depp’s attorney pointed out that she had not fulfilled her pledges to charity, Heard simply insisted she had. She claimed “pledge” means the exact same thing as “donate.”
The second problem was Heard claiming that she didn’t fulfill her pledges “because Johnny sued her” and she needed the money to defend herself. However, it was easily pointed out that she had Depp’s money in hand well before any lawsuit was filed.
The pledge vs. donation discussion was likely a key moment in the jury assessing Heard’s honesty and character— and whether her other claims could be considered truthful.
10. Depp’s Finger. Depp’s allegation that Heard threw a liquor bottle at him that broke and cut off the end of his finger proved more credible than her implication that he may have chopped it off himself (for which she provided no details or convincing evidence). Depp made a good case that he would never mutilate his own hand, particularly as much as he loves playing the guitar. And there was no record of him mutilating himself in other circumstances, even when drunk or high on drugs. In fact, it is my assessment that the odds of someone being able to intentionally cut off his own finger are very small, and that such an injury would be more likely to be a clean slice across the finger rather than an angled, jagged piece of finger near the nail. Additionally, the finger piece would not be hurled or discovered across the room with the broken glass as Depp’s finger was. If the jury also thought Heard was likely lying about Depp’s finger, it added to their perception that she was fabricating other claims, too.
11. Speaking of Depp’s Injured Finger… It seemed very unlikely that days after the injury, with his severed finger surgically repaired, a medical pin stuck in it, and a cast covering his hand; that Depp accomplished the horrific physical attack that Heard claimed. She said Depp grabbed her hair and pulled handfuls of it out, leaving hair “all over the place.” She also said Depp beat her into unconsciousness within an inch of her life, pounding on her with his fists, and screaming that the wanted to kill her. The idea that she had no evidence of injury in terms of photos and did not seek medical attention for the claimed injuries, adds to the perception that her account of the night was made up.
12. The Hair. The Heard claim that Depp pulled out so much hair during a fight, it did not ring true. It is extremely difficult to pull out fistfuls of hair, and Depp would have had to accomplish this while handicapped with a severely injured hand. Two photos Heard later produced as evidence were unconvincing. One showed a lock of hair on the floor. Another showed a small bald circle on the top of Heard’s head that did not appear to prove the assertion that handfuls of hair were ripped out.
13. Depp’s Injuries. Some of Depp’s documented injuries of alleged abuse by Heard appeared worse than any evidence Heard was able to produce.
Unlike Heard, Depp had multiple witnesses testify that they observed Heard physically attacking Depp on different occasions. Depp claimed Heard threw objects at him, sometimes hitting him and cutting his face; gave him a “shiner” on their honeymoon; put out a cigarette on his face; threw a liquor bottle at him that broke and cut off the end of his finger; and punched him.
By her own admission, Heard kicked a door into Depp’s head when he knelt to check her foot, and repeatedly hit him on different occasions. Which brings us to the audiotapes.
Watch: testimony introducing Depp injury photos
14. Heard’s Own Admissions. Between the claims and counterclaims, there was only one party who had an admission of intentional violence. Depp was the clear winner. In conversations Depp recorded and ultimately played for the jury, Heard admitted hitting Depp on different occasions, berating and mocking him when he raised the abuse. The nail in the coffin was a recorded conversation in 2016 when the couple was discussing the terms of a divorce. Heard can be heard saying that a judge and jury would be more likely to believe her claims of physical abuse than Depp’s.
“Tell the world Johnny, tell them... ‘I Johnny Depp, a man, I'm a victim too of domestic violence’... and see how many people believe or side with you,” Heard says. “You're bigger and you're stronger... I was a 115 lb. woman... You're going to get up on the stand, Johnny, and say, ‘She started it’? Really?…I have never been able to overpower you... there's a jury and there's a judge will see that there's a very big difference between me and you.”
Another noteworthy revelation that came from audio recordings was Depp’s pattern of trying to de-escalate during their heated arguments and go to another location or, when Heard would physically block him from leaving, lock himself into a room while she banged on the door and begged for him to continue the fight, berating him for wanting to exit. Heard came to look like the aggressor, repeatedly complained to Depp about him trying to walk away from arguments.
15. Likeability. In terms of presentation and likeability, Depp was more likeable than Heard, and Depp’s attorneys were more likeable than Heard’s. Depp managed to finesse the balance of defending himself on the stand when challenged, but doing it in a way that sounded polite and controlled. Heard lacked the same ability. Her testimony and demeanor in court, including bursts of anger, and sobs without tears did not appear genuine.
Watch: Top Johnny Depp Comebacks & Reactions to Questioning While Testifying, Courtesy: Law and Crime Network
Watch: 'Your lies have been exposed': Johnny Depp lawyer Camille Vasquez destroys Amber Heard, Courtesy: Daily Mail
With all the evidence taken together, it seems more likely than not that Heard was not telling the truth. One of her wildest claims of violent sexual abuse, a rape with a bottle, seemed to be raised for the first time years after-the-fact to defend an otherwise defamatory headline in Heard’s Washington Post op-ed that specicially claimed sexual violence— when there had been no specific allegation to match the claim. If the jury believed Heard’s rape story, then the headline would not be defamatory. The jury rejected Heard’s version of events.
It appears as though once the writing was on the wall and Heard knew Depp intended to end the short marriage, Heard began laying the groundwork to make a case of abuse. She knew that she had abused Depp and that he had audio recordings. She began began telling friends new stories and details about Depp in order to ultimately defend herself from Depp’s potential abuse claims or negotiate a favorable financial settlement in the divorce.
Pledge ≠ Donation
Substance Abuse ≠ Physical Abuse
Taken together, these are some of the strongest reasons why the jury might have handed down such a decisive victory for Depp, despite the fact that defamation cases are notoriously difficult for public figures to win, and despite the twist on the narrative: a man saying he was the victim.
Trivia: Depp never looked at Heard during the trial. In a meeting after she lodged her false allegations of abuse, Depp told Heard she would "never see" his eyes again.