Yet that same jury ruled that Heard had defamed Depp when she described herself, in a Washington Post opinion essay, as a “public figure representing domestic abuse,” and awarded Depp more than $10 million.
As a First Amendment issue, the verdict is a travesty. By the time Heard wrote the essay, the restraining order she’d received had been all over the news, and a photo of her with a bruised face and bloody lip had appeared on the cover of People Magazine. Even if Heard lied about everything during the trial — even if she’d never suffered domestic abuse — she still would have represented it. But if the police call wasn’t part of a hoax, then it’s hard to see how Heard hadn’t suffered as well.
Perhaps this contradictory verdict was a result of jury-room horse-trading; the finding for Heard could have been a sop to convince a few holdouts to get on board with a unanimous decision. But its meaning is clear: It might be impossible to dismiss all the evidence against Depp, but he’s still the more sympathetic figure.
This finding echoes the conventional wisdom of the internet, where Depp is widely viewed as the sensitive prey of a vicious and conniving gold-digger, and of much of the conservative movement, which has cheered Depp, a man who once joked about assassinating Trump, for slaying the #MeToo gorgon. After the verdict was announced, the official Twitter account of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee tweeted out a GIF of Depp as the pirate Jack Sparrow, looking dashing and determined. If there’s one thing they hate more than decadent Hollywood elites, it’s mouthy women.
During the trial, the jurors heard a recording in which Depp sneered at Heard, using an obscenity, “I head butted you in the forehead. That doesn’t break a nose.” (He claimed it was an accident.) They heard from a makeup artist who testified about covering up Heard’s bruises. They heard a text Depp wrote in which he said, using an obscenity, that he hoped Heard’s “rotting corpse was decomposing in the trunk of a Honda Civic,” and another one in which he fantasized about having sex with her burnt corpse. They saw video of him rampaging around their kitchen, smashing cabinets while she tried to calm him down. They heard a recording of him screaming at her for daring to speak to him in an “authoritative” way, and another in which he threatened to cut himself while she begged him to put the knife down.