Johnny Depp-Amber Heard Defamation Trial: Heard Claims Depp Raped Her - Rolling Stone
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Amber Heard Accuses Johnny Depp of Sexual Assault

Actress’ attorney makes explosive claim, which has never been made publicly before, at the former couple’s defamation trial. Depp’s lawyers called her “a profoundly troubled person”

Johnny Depp Amber HeardJohnny Depp Amber Heard

Johnny Depp, Amber Heard.

John Phillips/Getty Images; KGC-158/STAR MAX/IPx

In a shocking escalation in the ongoing battle between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, the actress’ lawyers claimed in court Tuesday that the Pirates of the Caribbean star “sexually assaulted” the actress during a black-out-drunk incident near the end of their troubled marriage.

The explosive claims, which have never been made publicly before, were referenced during the opening statements in the former couple’s defamation trial. Depp is suing Heard over an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post in which she claimed she was a survivor of domestic abuse. The pair, who were married in 2015 and split a year later, are squaring off at the Fairfax County Courthouse in Virginia in the long-awaited trial, which has sparked international headlines.

But Depp’s lawyers, Ben Chew and Camille Vasquez, countered that narrative, with Vasquez calling Heard “a profoundly troubled person” who professes to be a victim but is, in fact, a perpetrator of domestic violence. She added: “The only medical report of an injury during their relationship was a severe one sustained by Mr. Depp after an argument shortly after their marriage, while the couple was in Australia … She threw a vodka bottle at him that hit his hand and exploded, severing the end of one of his fingers.”

Depp’s attorneys also zeroed in on the timing of Heard’s sexual assault claim and say it was weaponized to bolster her defense in this case.

“Ms. Heard had never made that accusation against Mr. Depp — it was never part of her allegations of abuse in 2016. So, what changed? When she realized the seriousness of what she alleged [about being the victim of domestic abuse], she panicked and alleged sexual assault,” Vasquez told the jury. “In Mr. Depp’s fifty-eight years, not a single woman has ever accused him of violence, and nobody in Hollywood or the world had any reason to believe he was an abuser – until Ms. Heard publicly accused him.”

Heard’s attorney Ben Rottenborn, who read the entire op-ed during his opening argument, pinned the blame on the salacious nature of the trial on Depp. “It’s not about which party can sling more mud,” he said. “But you’re going to hear a lot of that in this trial. You’re going to hear that because that’s what Mr. Depp wants to turn this case into. He wants to turn this case into a six-week-long public spectacle of the most intimate aspects of their relationship and their marriage.”

Chew and Vasquez, who were first to speak, addressed Heard’s sexual assault claims preemptively and took direct aim at her credibility, which has come into question during the past 18 months as a result of testimony she gave at a different trial that has since begun to unravel. During that 2019 trial concerning the pair’s volatile relationship, Heard stated under oath that she had donated the entirety of her $7 million divorce settlement to charity — specifically, to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the ACLU. Her attorneys have fought to keep out evidence that she did not actually make those donations as claimed, but Depp’s legal team subpoenaed CHLA and won, receiving donor records, which showed she did not give the $3.5 million as she claimed. For its part, the ACLU avoided being served for months, but Depp’s lawyers deposed members of the nonprofit’s staff, who admitted that she had not honored the $3.5 million donation.

“I don’t think anyone would have looked differently at her if she kept the settlement money that was due to her, but she knew that money could do more for others than it could for her,” Jessica Herman Weitz, director of artist engagement at the ACLU, told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. “It was not, ‘I’ll throw you a tweet.’ It was, ‘I’m putting my money where my mouth is.'” Heard has only donated about a quarter of that amount thus far through anonymous donors believed to include Elon Musk, who previously dated Heard. Depp’s legal strategy in the defamation trial hinges on bringing that disconnect before the jury.

Lawyers for Heard, who is no longer represented by former Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund co-founder Roberta Kaplan, raised the sexual assault allegations during their opening argument, dubbing the incident “a three-day blackout in which he abused and sexually assaulted Amber.” Rottenborn added, “You will hear in the most graphic and horrifying terms about the [sexual] violence that she suffered. You’ll hear that straight from her.”

At the heart of the case is Depp’s claim that his reputation was tarnished and his A-list movie star status negatively impacted when Heard wrote about domestic abuse in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed. Though Depp, who also is expected to testify, wasn’t named in the piece, there was little ambiguity at the time about who Heard was referencing, considering that their scorched-earth divorce proceedings had played out just two years before. In the piece, Heard created a timeline that dovetailed with allegations she made in 2016, as the marriage was dissolving. “Two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out,” she wrote. That prompted Depp to sue his former wife for $50 million in 2019, with the actress countersuing a year later for $100 million. (The Washington Post was not named in the actor’s suit.)

The actor lost a related libel case in London in 2020 after he sued British tabloid The Sun for referring to him as a “wife beater.” A judge found that The Sun had proved the article was substantially true despite a number of women backing him under oath, including former partner Vanessa Paradis, who is the mother of his two children, Lily-Rose and Jack, and ex-fiancée Winona Ryder. Following the U.K. verdict, Warner Bros. cut ties with Depp, dropping him from a Fantastic Beasts sequel that he had already begun to shoot.

In the Virginia case, Depp claims he has lost movie roles including a lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean sequel appearance with a $40 million payday as a result of Heard’s op-ed. The trial, which is being overseen by Judge Judge Penney Azcarate, is expected to feature plenty of bold-faced names like Musk. Depp’s lawyers were unable to serve Musk, and the Tesla billionaire never sat for a deposition. The actor previously implied that Musk was footing Heard’s legal bills in a text exchange that surfaced in the U.K. case, in which Depp wrote to a CAA agent, “She sucked [Elon Musk’s] crooked dick and he gave her some shitty lawyers.”

Heard’s lawyer Elaine Bredehoft painted a picture of a debauched Depp, whose outbursts were fueled by his drug use. She called the finger severing an “act of self-mutilation.” “You’re gonna hear from the experts testifying about this finger injury and how fantastic [Depp’s] version is,” she said. “But the other part of it was he was with Marilyn Manson for the week before scoring on cocaine.”

In order for Depp to prevail in the Virginia case, the actor will have to prove that Heard’s abuse allegations are false and that Heard acted with malice or intentionally lied in making the claims. Unlike in the U.K. case, a jury will decide Depp’s fate, not a judge. On Monday, seven jurors were selected to hear the case alongside four alternates. Heightening the drama, the trial is being televised.

The sexual assault allegations during production of Pirates of the Caribbean brings a new twist to an incident that has been covered extensively over the years. Production was shut down for two weeks with Depp flying to Los Angeles for surgery.

“Both sides are likely to try to score the first points in the court of public opinion as well as in the courtroom itself,” said defamation attorney not involved with this case. “So both may have inflammatory testimony to tease in their opening statements, especially because they know that the fair report privilege means that it’s open season for the media to report on anything that’s alleged in the courtroom. Generally, an opening statement should be a road map of each side’s anticipated testimony and evidence, so I wouldn’t expect counsel to talk about allegations unless they have some supporting evidence.  And then it will be up to the jury to decide how persuasive that evidence is.”

Heard’s lawyers’ bare-knuckle approach in the case comes in stark contrast to what the actress posted last week on Instagram, when she wrote that she hopes she and her ex can both move on after the trial concludes. “I have always maintained a love for Johnny and it brings me great pain to have to live out the details of our past life together in front of the world.”

The Depp-Heard battle appears to have taken its toll on both parties. The actor hasn’t landed a role in a major studio film since 2019, when Warner Bros. cut him loose from Fantastic Beasts. Heard hasn’t landed any significant roles outside of Aquaman. Sources say production on the that film was fraught with tension, with Heard clashing with co-star Jason Momoa.

Depp’s lawyers plan to call a series of witnesses including police officers who responded to a May 2016 incident in Los Angeles. “The evidence will show that six days after Mr. Depp’s request for a divorce, and three days after Ms. Heard’s lawyer threatened Mr. Depp with claims of abuse if he did not agree to her financial demands, Ms. Heard arrived at the courthouse in Los Angeles, California, to file for a restraining order for domestic abuse,” Chew said.

“You will hear from police officers who responded to a 911 call on May 21st, after Mr. Depp left, and saw no injuries on Ms. Heard. Nor did the police officers see any of the property damage Ms. Heard claims Mr. Depp caused on his way out; and you will hear that those officers determined there had been no violence and no crime.”

As for the sexual assault allegations, a spokesperson for Depp’s legal team called the timing “convenient.”

“These fictitious claims were never made at the onset of Amber’s allegations in 2016, and only advantageously surfaced years later once she was sued for defamation after noting in her op-ed that she was a victim of ‘sexual violence,'” the spokesperson said. “Words are key in a defamation case and conveniently, this allegation only came after that. This follows a pattern of her elaborate, erroneous claims which have continued to change and evolve over time for the purpose of Hollywood shock value of which Amber has mastered and used to exploit a a serious social movement.”

In This Article: Amber Heard, Johnny Depp


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