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Depp, Heard lawyers make final pitch to jurors in defamation case

Johnny Depp’s attorneys appealed to jurors on Friday (May 27) to restore his reputation with a verdict in his favor, while lawyers for his ex-wife Amber Heard asked them to recognize her free speech rights when they decide the actors’ dueling defamation claims.

The 58-year-old “Pirates of the Caribbean” star sued Heard in Virginia for $50 million and argued that she defamed him when she called herself “a public figure representing domestic abuse.”

Heard, 36, countersued for $100 million, saying Depp smeared her when his lawyer called her accusations a “hoax.”

Depp has denied hitting Heard or any woman and said she was the one who turned violent in their relationship.

“Mr. Depp experienced persistent verbal, physical and emotional abuse by Ms. Heard,” attorney Camille Vasquez said in closing arguments.

She said Heard’s allegations of abuse by Depp, including a sexual assault with a liquor bottle, were “wild, over-the-top and implausible” and had ruined his reputation in Hollywood and among fans.

“We ask you, we implore you to give him his name, his reputation and his career back,” Depp’s attorney Ben Chew said.

Heard lawyer Benjamin Rottenborn, in his closing argument, reminded jurors of explicit text messages from Depp to friends or associates.

In one, Depp called Heard a “filthy whore” and said he wanted her dead and “would fuck her burnt corpse.”

“This is a window into the heart and mind of America’s favorite pirate,” Rottenborn said. “This is the real Johnny Depp.”

At the center of the legal case is a December 2018 opinion piece by Heard in the Washington Post in which she made the statement about domestic abuse. The article never mentioned Depp by name, but his lawyer told jurors it was clear that Heard was referring to him.

Heard’s attorneys argued that she had told the truth and that her comments were covered as free speech under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

“Your key question to answer is ‘does the First Amendment give Ms. Heard the right to write the words she wrote?” Rottenborn told the jury. “You cannot simultaneously uphold the First Amendment and find in favor of Johnny Depp.”

The seven-person jury is expected to begin deliberations later on Friday. If jurors do not reach verdicts by Friday evening, they will reconvene on Tuesday after the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, Judge Penney Azcarate said.

Depp and Heard met in 2011 while filming “The Rum Diary” and wed in February 2015. Their divorce was finalized about two years later.

Over six weeks of proceedings, jurors have listened to recordings of the former couple’s fights and seen graphic photos of Depp’s bloody finger.

Depp said Heard threw a vodka bottle that cut off the top of his finger during an argument in 2015. Heard denied injuring Depp’s finger and said Depp sexually assaulted her that night with a liquor bottle.

Once among Hollywood’s biggest stars, Depp said Heard’s allegations cost him “everything.” A new “Pirates” movie was put on hold, and Depp was replaced in the “Fantastic Beasts” film franchise, a “Harry Potter” spinoff.

Depp lost a libel case less than two years ago against the Sun, a British tabloid that labeled him a “wife beater.” A London High Court judge ruled that he had repeatedly assaulted Heard.

Depp’s lawyers filed the U.S. case in Fairfax County, Virginia, because the Washington Post is printed there. The newspaper is not a defendant.

(Production: Greg Savoy, Arlene Eiras)

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