Entertainment

Social media attacks on Amber Heard may have influenced jury in libel trial, her lawyer says

Amber Heard was "demonized" by ex-husband Johnny Depp's legal team and excoriated on social media during a sensational defamation trial that ended with a jury ordering her to pay Depp $15 million US, Heard's lawyer said Thursday.

'It was like a Roman coliseum,' says lawyer of Depp fans' treatment of Heard on social media

Actor Amber Heard hugs her lawyer Elaine Bredehoft after the verdict was read at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Wednesday. The jury awarded Heard's ex-husband Johnny Depp more than $10 million US in his libel lawsuit against her. It also found in favour of Heard, who said she was defamed by a lawyer for Depp. (Evelyn Hockstein/The Associated Press)

Amber Heard was "demonized" by ex-husband Johnny Depp's legal team and excoriated on social media during a sensational defamation trial that ended with a jury ordering her to pay Depp $15 million US, Heard's lawyer said Thursday.

Elaine Bredehoft, one of Heard's lead attorneys during the trial, said she believes the jury was influenced by a relentless barrage of social media posts condemning Heard and supporting Depp. She said Heard plans to appeal.

"These people were giving her death threats," Bredehoft said on CBS Mornings. "They threatened to microwave her baby. This is the kind of social media she was getting.

"It was like a Roman coliseum is the best way to describe the atmosphere here. And I have to believe that the jury, even though they're told not to go and look at anything, you know, they have weekends, they have families, they have social media."

Large groups of Depp fans congregated outside the courthouse through much of the six-week trial. (Craig Hudson/The Associated Press)

Bredehoft also said some evidence that was allowed in a similar defamation lawsuit that Depp lost in the U.K. was suppressed in the lawsuit he filed in Virginia. In the U.K. case, the judge found that Depp assaulted Heard on a dozen occasions.

"We weren't allowed to tell the jury this," Bredehoft said on NBC's Today show. "So what did Depp's team learn from this? Demonize Amber. And suppress the evidence."

Heard doesn't have $10M she owes: lawyer

The verdict handed down Wednesday in Fairfax County Circuit Court found that Depp had been defamed by three statements in a 2018 op-ed written by Heard in which she said she was victim of abuse.

The jury awarded him $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, but the judge reduced the punitive damages award to $350,000 under a state cap.

Depp's attorneys, including Camille Vasquez and Benjamin Chew, celebrate after the verdict was read Wednesday. Depp was not in court when the verdict was read. (Evelyn Hockstein/The Associated Press)

Depp attorney Camille Vasquez said Wednesday that the verdict "confirms what we have said from the beginning, that the claims against Johnny Depp are defamatory and unsupported by any evidence."

When asked on Today whether Heard has the money to pay the $10.35 million, Bredehoft said, "Oh, no, absolutely not."

The jury also awarded Heard $2 million in her countersuit, concluding that she was defamed by a lawyer for Depp who accused her of creating a detailed hoax surrounding the abuse allegations.

Focus was on abuse

The case captivated viewers who watched gavel-to-gavel television coverage, including impassioned followers on social media who dissected the actors' mannerisms, their wardrobe choices and their use of alcohol and drugs.

While the case was ostensibly about libel, most of the testimony focused on whether Heard had been physically and sexually abused, as she claimed.

Depp arrives at Sage Gateshead, Newcastle, England, where he was due to join guitarist Jeff Beck on stage Thursday. (Owen Humphreys/PA/The Associated Press)

Heard enumerated more than a dozen alleged assaults, including a fight in Australia — where Depp was shooting a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel — in which Depp lost the tip of his middle finger and Heard said she was sexually assaulted with a liquor bottle.

Depp said he never hit Heard and that she was the abuser, though Heard's attorneys highlighted years-old text messages Depp sent apologizing to Heard for his behaviour as well as profane texts he sent to a friend in which Depp said he wanted to kill Heard and defile her dead body.

Impact on careers uncertain

Both performers emerge with unclear prospects. Depp, a three-time best actor Oscar nominee, was a bankable star until recent years, with credits including playing Capt. Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. However, he lost that role and was replaced in a Fantastic Beasts spinoff.

Heard's acting career has been more modest, and her only two upcoming roles are in a small film and the Aquaman sequel due out next year.

Brett Ward, a family law attorney in New York, said Depp made himself a more believable witness by admitting he used drugs and alcohol and could be a difficult person. But, he said, Depp also ran the risk of making those moments more memorable to the public than his film work.

"He says he did this for his children. Having watched the whole trial, I don't think that he did any service to his children by airing all of this dirty laundry," Ward said.

WATCH | Closely watched libel trial concludes with win for Depp:

Depp wins libel lawsuit against Heard, but both sides guilty of defamation, jury finds

2 months ago
Duration 14:15
A jury has ruled that Johnny Depp and his ex-wife, actor Amber Heard, were both defamed over claims of abuse before and during their brief marriage.

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911. 

Lisa Richwine

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