Johnny Depp, at libel trial, denies ever striking ‘any woman’
By Julia Jacobs
Actor Johnny Depp took the stand earlier this week in the defamation case he brought against actress Amber Heard, his former wife, seeking to clear his name from domestic abuse allegations that he said were “not based in any species of truth.”
Heard has accused Depp in court papers of abusing her repeatedly throughout their relationship, including by slapping her, kicking her, head-butting her and dragging her by her hair.
But Depp told a seven-person jury sitting in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia that it came as a “complete shock” when she lodged those accusations publicly.
“Never did I myself reach the point of striking Ms. Heard in any way,” the actor testified, “nor have I ever struck any woman in my life.”
Speaking slowly and carefully, Depp described how the allegations sent his reputation and career, characterized by flashy roles in “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” in decline.
“It’s very strange when one day you’re Cinderella, so to speak, and then in 0.6 seconds you’re Quasimodo,” he said. “And I didn’t deserve that.”
The testimony came on the fifth day of the trial over whether Heard, 35, defamed her former husband, Depp, 58, when she wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post in 2018. In it, she said her career had been harmed after she became a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
Depp’s name was not mentioned in the op-ed, but he and his lawyers have argued that she was clearly referring to their relationship, which ended in divorce in 2017. Depp’s lawsuit claimed that Heard’s op-ed “devastated” his once-flourishing acting career.
The jury is also considering a countersuit from Heard, who claims that Depp defamed her when his former lawyer made statements saying Heard’s domestic abuse claims were an orchestrated “hoax.”
In court papers, Depp has alleged that Heard physically abused him throughout their relationship, including by throwing objects at him. He said those objects included a vodka bottle that shattered on the counter near him and severed one of his fingers — an account that has become a key anecdote in the trial.
Heard has denied in court papers that she was ever physically violent toward Depp, except in self-defense or in defense of her sister. She has said Depp hurt his finger while smashing a phone against a wall repeatedly.
On Tuesday, Depp provided an account not unlike the one he gave in London two years ago in an earlier defamation case he brought against The Sun newspaper for calling him a “wife beater” in a headline. In that trial, a judge found that there was “overwhelming evidence” that he had assaulted Heard repeatedly during their marriage and that he had put her “in fear of her life.”
During their opening arguments last week, Heard’s lawyers told the jury that they would be presenting evidence of “graphic and horrifying” abuse against Heard, including instances of sexual assault, which Depp denies. One of her lawyers, Ben Rottenborn, questioned whether Depp’s accounts of events were credible if he was “blacked out” on drugs and alcohol, and he argued that Depp was responsible for the decline of his career, not Heard.
“This man’s poor choices have brought him to this courtroom,” Rottenborn said.
Heard has said Depp’s violence often occurred when he was using drugs and alcohol.
But Depp testified Tuesday that, while he had taken his first illicit drug as an 11-year-old dealing with an abusive mother, the account Heard has put forward about his drug use was “grossly embellished.”
He said he had become addicted to Roxicodone, an opioid, when he was prescribed it following an injury on the set of the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie but that he had detoxed from that drug during their relationship.
“I am not some maniac who needs to be high or loaded all the time,” he said, adding that Heard’s friends, in fact, marveled at how little effect drugs and alcohol had on him.
Depp’s lawyers have argued that Heard has been “living and breathing this lie” surrounding domestic abuse for years and that the actor’s drug and alcohol use did not make him an abuser.
“Mr. Depp, like all of us, is not perfect, but he’s not an abuser,” Camille Vasquez, one of the actor’s lawyers, said last week.
In prior days, the jury and four alternates have heard live testimony or recordings of video depositions from several witnesses called by Depp’s lawyers, including a sister who has acted as a personal manager, Christi Dembrowski; a physician, Dr. David Kipper, who said he treated the actor for opioid addiction; and the couple’s marriage counselor, Laurel Anderson, who said she saw “mutual abuse” in the relationship.
Participants have said they expect the trial to last about six weeks, and Heard is also expected to testify. Depp’s testimony was to continue Wednesday.