The jury was made up of five men and two women, and they were not isolated from social media during the trial.
In 2018, Amber Heard wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post. The piece, which was fewer than 1,000 words long, called for there to be more support for women who had survived violence.
While the article never mentioned her ex-husband, Johnny Depp, by name, Heard said she’d become “a public figure representing domestic abuse” two years earlier, which is when she’d filed for divorce from Depp and obtained a temporary restraining order against him.
In a 2016 statement, Heard claimed that Depp had been “verbally and physically abusive” toward her throughout their relationship. In the op-ed, Heard said that the public reaction to her statement had offered her “the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”
Although Depp’s name wasn’t mentioned in the article, and despite much of the piece being more generic advocacy for social change, Depp filed a defamation lawsuit against Heard as he denied ever being abusive toward her.
This was the second time that Depp had taken the domestic violence allegations to court, having previously filed to sue British tabloid the Sun for libel after he was called a “wife beater” in an article.
That case went to trial in 2020, with Heard testifying on behalf of the Sun that Depp had been abusive throughout their relationship. Depp ended up losing the case after a judge ruled that there was enough evidence to support the publication’s decision to call him a “wife beater.”
However, the judge’s verdict was not grounds to dismiss Depp’s defamation lawsuit against Heard, and it went to court in April of this year. The six-week trial took place in Virginia, and the state’s laws allowed for the whole thing to be livestreamed and watched by the public, which secured it a captive audience across the globe.
In fact, the accessibility of the case ended up coming under scrutiny as Deppv. hearing became a trial by TikTok, with social media users found to be editing audio snippets from the testimonies and turning tearful allegations of abuse into comedy videos.
It was argued that the severity of Heard’s allegations was being overshadowed by the fanfare of the case, with her distressing accounts of sexual, physical, and emotional violence turned into public ridicule.
The incredibly high-profile trial came to an end on Wednesday, when the jury of five men and two women ruled largely in Depp’s favor.
They ordered Heard to pay him a total of $15 million; $10 million in compensatory damages, and another $5 million in punitive damages after finding her liable on three counts in the op-ed.
These counts included the headline itself, as well as two further statements within the piece.
Separately, the jury ruled that Depp had defamed Heard in one of three counts in her countersuit through his lawyer, Adam Waldman, with Depp ordered to pay her $2 million after Waldman called her allegations a “hoax.”
The trial’s stenographer, Judy Bellinger, has now made some claims about the jury’s behavior throughout the trial after she was called a “rockstar” by Judge Penney Azcarate.
A stenographer is also known as a court reporter, and is the person who captures the live testimony in proceedings and writes it into an official, certified transcript.
In a clip from Bellinger’s new interview with Law & Crime Network, she said that jurors in both the front and back rows fell asleep at various points throughout the trial.
“There were a few jurors who were dozing off,” she claimed. “And it was tough. There were a lot of video depositions, and they would just sit there, and all of a sudden I’d see their head drop.”
Bellinger went on to add that the “best” juror who paid the most attention was a woman alternate picked at random, and she was not involved in the final verdict.
“Unfortunately, the one alternate that was on there, she was probably the one that listened the most,” Bellinger explained. “I watched her facial expressions, she was very deeply into every word that was being said. I thought she would’ve made a great juror, and she did not get to see it to the end. She was paying close attention.”
The comments come after Heard’s attorney, Elaine Bredehoft, scrutinized the fact that the jury were not sequestered in the trial, which means that they could be on social media and discuss the trial with friends and family while sitting on the case.
Bredehoft argued that social media was “absolutely” in favor of Depp, and that Heard was “demonized” throughout the trial, which could have swayed the jurors’ opinions.
Jurors were encouraged not to research the case or look on social media during breaks from the courtroom, but Bredehoft said: “How can you not? They went home every night, they have families, the families are on social media. We had a 10-day break in the middle because of the judicial conference. There’s no way they couldn’t have been influenced by it.”
“And it was horrible — it really, really was lopsided,” she added of the online reaction. “It was like the Roman Colosseum, how they viewed this whole case.”
Lawyers for Heard previously confirmed that she “absolutely” plans to appeal the verdict, and she added in a statement: “I’m heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband.”
“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback,” she continued. “It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously.”
“I believe Johnny’s attorneys succeeded in getting the jury to overlook the key issue of Freedom of Speech and ignore evidence that was so conclusive that we won in the UK,” Heard went on. “I’m sad I lost this case. But I am sadder still that I seem to have lost a right I thought I had as an American — to speak freely and openly.”
Meanwhile, Depp said that the jury had given him his “life back” and that he was “truly humbled” and “at peace” with the verdict.