Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard: Looking back at the sensationalism of the defamation trial
Amber Heard's defense rested its case on Thursday after an exhaustive six-week trial. In a courtroom filled with cameras in Fairfax County, Va., Heard and ex-husband Johnny Depp, who is suing her for defamation, have recounted sordid details about their volatile relationship, shining a light on issues of domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health.
While those underlying themes are tragic and painful, the intimate insight the live-streamed trial has provided into the messy private lives of two larger-than-life celebrities has turned Depp vs. Heard into a public spectacle that even Heard has referred to as "The Johnny Depp Show."
Depp is suing Heard for $50 million over a 2018 Washington Post op-ed she wrote detailing her experiences as a domestic abuse survivor. In it, she writes about the "wrath" victims face in coming forward with abuse allegations against powerful figures. Though she never mentions Depp by name, his lawyers have argued that the references to him — and her previous abuse allegations — are clear and damaged his career and reputation.
Heard filed her own $100 million countersuit, claiming Depp and his legal team defamed her by calling her allegations a hoax and orchestrated a "smear campaign" to paint her as a liar.
Below, take a look at the most sensationalized aspects of the trial, which has featured a cast of lawyers and witnesses at times ever more colorful than the stars at its center.
The 'rotting corpse' text messages
Many of Depp's shocking text messages about Heard, sent to friends such as actor Paul Bettany, have been put on display throughout the trial. During one text exchange, Depp wrote he hoped Heard's "rotting corpse is decomposing in the f-----g trunk of a Honda Civic." In another sent to Bettany, Depp texted about wanting to drown and burn his ex-wife, adding, "I will f--- her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she's dead." He testified that he felt "embarrassed" about the messages, citing his dark humor. "Sometimes pain has to be dealt with with humor, and sometimes dark humor," Depp testified. "I grew up watching Monty Python... I tend to be quite expressive in my writing."
The severed finger
Depp accused Heard of severing the tip of his finger during an argument in 2015. He testified that following an argument over a prenuptial agreement, Heard smashed a vodka bottle on his hand and severed the tip of his middle finger.
Heard has denied the allegations, arguing that the finger could've been sliced after he smashed a phone. While an orthopedic surgeon called by Heard's defense testified that Depp's finger injury was not consistent with his allegations, an orthopedic surgeon called by Depp's team testified otherwise, claiming Heard's explanation was not consistent.
The human feces
Depp testified that he believes Heard defecated on his side of the bed following an argument in 2016 and tried to blame it on their dogs, Pistol and Boo. Heard denied the allegations, calling them "disgusting." She testified that Boo had gotten into Depp's marijuana stash as a puppy, leading to a lifetime of spontaneous bowel movements. When asked if she left the poop as a prank, Heard testified, "Absolutely not. First of all, I don't think that's funny. I was not in a pranking mood. My life was falling apart. I had just been attacked [by Depp] on my 30th birthday… It was not really a jovial time."
The famous witness list
A number of witnesses have testified over the course of the trial. Some of the most notable names include actress Ellen Barkin and model Kate Moss. Barkin, who had a relationship with Depp in 1994 and starred opposite him in 1998's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, testified on Heard's behalf about Depp's "controlling" and "angry" behavior, alleging he once threw a wine bottle across a hotel room during an argument with friends. Moss testified on Depp's behalf, briefly denying rumors that he once shoved her down a flight of stairs, which Heard had insinuated in testimony. Heard's costar James Franco and ex-boyfriend Elon Musk were also on her witness list but were never called to testify. Warner Bros. executive Walter Hamada also testified on Depp's behalf and disputed Heard's claims that her role was reduced in Aquaman due to Depp's alleged smear campaign against her.
The fans and alpacas
Die-hard Depp fans have traveled from different parts of the country to Virginia for a front-row seat at the trial. One spectator told PEOPLE she spent about $100,000 to appear at the trial, flying from Los Angeles to Virginia and showing up at 1 a.m. every morning to ensure she has a seat in the courthouse. The spectator told the outlet her family believes she's "having a midlife crisis." Others said they'd traveled from abroad, including Rome, and used up all of their vacation days from work to be there.
Some fans have brought alpacas — fake stuffed ones and real ones — to the court, in reference to Depp's testimony that he would not return to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise even if Disney offered him "$300 million and a million alpacas."
The attorney fan club
Camille Vasquez, Depp's attorney, has achieved some minor celebrity status due to her combative cross-examinations of Heard during the trial. Vasquez is often cheered on by Depp's fans — flanked with smartphones to capture footage of their "queen" — as she leaves the courtroom at the end of each day in court. She and fellow Depp attorney Benjamin Chew have also stopped to pose for some photographs with the alpacas.
The memefication of trauma
With cameras in the courtroom, the trial has dominated social media platforms and news cycles alike. On Twitter, hashtags like #AmberTurd and #MePoo have been used to make light of the trial. TikTok has become a breeding ground of Depp vs. Heard content, with users recreating and mocking Heard's testimony, which has included allegations of physical, sexual, and verbal assault. Former boyband member Lance Bass even joined in on the trend, mocking Heard's testimony about the first time Depp allegedly hit her. (He deleted the video after backlash.)
Closing arguments will be presented Friday, May 27, setting up the finale of "The Johnny Depp Show." The cameras will eventually stop rolling and the live studio audience will head home. Where the main characters go from here will depend on the verdict — both in the court of law and in the court of public opinion.