Why is Johnny Depp A "Wife Beater" In England But Not Here?
The American justice system let Amber Heard down, and, by extension, all domestic violence victims
Many people are asking why actor Johnny Depp lost a libel trial against a British tabloid in the United Kingdom but won a related defamation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard, in America.
The basic facts were the same in both trials.
Depp lost in 2020 when he sued The Sun for libel after it called Depp a “wife beater.” The British judge hearing the case found Depp committed at least 12 acts of domestic violence against his Heard, including sexual violence. The next day, The Sun repeated its headline calling Depp a "wife beater.”
But an American jury handed Depp a resounding victory earlier this week after he sued Heard for publishing an opinion piece on domestic violence in The Washington Post that never even mentioned his name.
Heard was ordered to pay $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages to Depp, while Depp was ordered to pay only $2 million to Heard for orchestrating a smear campaign against her.
“It’s a horrible message… a significant setback,'“ said Elaine Bredehoft, an attorney who served on Heard’s legal team on NBC Today Show. “It says unless you pull out your phone and you video your spouse or your significant other beating you, you won’t be believed.”
Elsewhere, there were comments Thursday on social media by women who said they would not report domestic violence in the future out of fear of being sued for defamation.
Bredehoft said one factor in Heard’s loss was Virginia trial court Judge Penny Azcarate’s decision to suppress an “enormous amount of evidence” of Depp’s guilt that was admitted in the English trial.
For example, Bredehoft said the judge suppressed medical evidence of Depp’s abuse of Heard dating back to 2012.
She said Judge Azcarate excluded texts by Depp’s assistant stating that Depp cried when he was told he had kicked Heard in the back during a drug and alcohol induced stupor.
Judge Azcarate did not permit Heard’s team to tell the jury about Heard’s loss in the U.K. trial.
Jury v. Judge
A key distinction between the English and American trials was that the U.S. trial was decided by a 7-member jury whereas a veteran English judge decided the English trial.
A common tactic in sexual assault and domestic violence cases is to blame the victim, arguing that s/he was in fact the provocateur and the abuser. This was exactly the strategy employed by Depp’s attorneys, who demonized Heard at every turn.
This “blame the victim” strategy didn’t work in the English trial because it is far more difficult to persuade an experienced judge that the victim is at fault. But it did work in the U.S. trial, before a jury of impressionable lay people.
Another important difference is the two trials is that the American trial was televised and became the focus of intense interest on social media.
It is estimated the hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp got 19 billion views on TikTok.
Bredehoft said Heard was relentlessly vilified on social media by Depp fans. She said the jury could not help but be exposed to this campaign as a result of a ten-day lapse in the six-week U.S. trial when the judge attended a judicial conference.
Meanwhile, a parade of supposed “experts” on Court TV, including an alleged body language specialist, provided a running commentary about why Heard could not be believed but Depp was entirely credible.
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