Amber Heard’s now famous opinion column on domestic violence was drafted for her, and the actress wanted to include details about her marriage against legal advice, a jury has been told – as more details on the day Johnny Depp severed his finger were also revealed in court.
Jurors in the libel lawsuit filed by Depp against Heard listened to testimony from Terence Dougherty, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who told the court that a staff member wrote the first version of the Washington Post article under the actress’s name and that tweaks were made to avoid making a direct link to her ex-husband.
The op-ed, which was published in December 2018, did not mention Depp by name, but he has told the court it was clearly about him and that it has ruined his career in Hollywood. Despite being the catalyst for this entire case, very little testimony so far has related to the column itself – but rather the “soap opera” of the stars’ personal lives that Heard’s lawyers predicted it would become on the opening day.
Mr Dougherty was the first witness on the 11th day of evidence in the case, which also included testimony from Depp’s business manager Edward White, his security guard Malcolm Connolly, and chauffeur and assistant Starling Jenkins III.
Here are some of the key moments from the 11th day of testimony:
• The court was told details of how Amber Heard’s opinion column was written and who was involved – and how it was timed to coincide with the release of her hit film Aquaman for maximum publicity
• Doubts were cast about how much of her $7m divorce settlement, which she pledged to give to the ACLU and a children’s hospital, will actually go to the organisations
• Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk came up during the donation discussions, with Mr Dougherty saying he believed the billionaire contributed to Heard’s payments
• The jury heard details of Depp’s one-time $160,000 wine bill – although it is now said to be closer to zero
• Depp’s security guard told the court he would sometimes see marks on Depp’s face, not Heard’s – and identified one in a photo
• Catch up on what has been said so far in our live reporting of the trial as it happens
The day started with Heard’s connection to the ACLU, and the court was told she was announced as an ambassador for the organisation at the same time the Washington Post article was published.
During his testimony, Mr Dougherty answered questions about the back-and-forth that occurred between the first draft and publication of the column.
How was the Washington Post op-ed put together?
Mr Dougherty told the court that it was actually an ACLU staff member who wrote a first draft of the article and sent it to Heard. “I tried to gather your fire and rage and really interesting analysis and shape out into an op-ed form,” the staff member said in an email.
Heard reviewed it with her lawyers and ACLU lawyers also reviewed it at various stages – all to ensure it did not breach a non-disclosure agreement Heard had signed as part of her divorce.
During those discussions, Heard sent back an edited version approved by her lawyers that “specifically neutered much of the copy regarding her marriage”, according to an email from another ACLU employee who co-ordinated with the actress.
According to the email, Heard was looking for a way to have a deleted passage restored to the article. Mr Dougherty testified that “the language that wound up in the final op-ed piece was very different from the original language” in the draft.
It was also timed to coincide with the release of Aquaman, in which Heard-co-starred with Jason Momoa, to capitalise on publicity, the court heard.
Where did the $7m divorce settlement go?
Following Depp and Heard’s break-up, the actress pledged to split her $7m divorce settlement between the ACLU and a children’s hospital in Los Angeles.
However, doubts were cast about the donations, with the court hearing that the ACLU has so far only received $1.3m of the $3.5m pledged; details for the hospital were not given.
Mr Dougherty testified that the organisation expected the money to come in over a 10-year period, but that Heard has made no contributions since 2018. However, Heard’s lawyer pointed out that this coincides with Depp filing the lawsuit against her – an expensive business.
He also told the court he believed tech entrepreneur Elon Musk – who was in a relationship with Heard after her split with Depp – had paid $500,000 of the $1.3m the organisation had received. “Yes, we don’t know that with absolute certainty, but that is our organisation’s understanding,” he said.
‘It’s all flapping around… I could see bone’
Despite the fact he was discussing some serious incidents and allegations, security guard Malcolm Connolly’s live video-link evidence provided some lighter moments during Thursday’s court session.
He detailed what he saw in March 2015 on the day he turned up to Depp’s rented house in Australia and discovered the actor had severely wounded his finger – an injury the actor himself described as “grotesque” and which has come up several times during the trial already.
He told the court he arrived to “chaos” and that Heard was “screaming” and calling Depp, who was nursing his hand, a “f****** coward” as he left. He says he drove Depp to his own apartment and later they went to hospital.
The actor’s “finger was just a mess” and like a “cartoon”, he tells the court. “It’s all flapping around… I could see bone.”
Asked by one of Heard’s legal team if Depp was trying to urinate on the floor when he arrived at the house, Mr Connolly said “no”. After it was put to him again that the actor was trying to urinate and “had his penis out”, he interrupted: “I think I would remember if I’d seen Mr Depp’s penis” – which raised a laugh from the actor and others in the courtroom.
‘He’s walked into a door, or a door’s walked into him’
Mr Connolly told the court he never saw any physical injuries on Heard. Asked if he saw any on Depp, he said he had. It “started off with a scratch once in a while but it got more”, he told the jury.
Elaborating, Mr Connolly said he saw marks such as scratches, or a fat lip, or bruising around the eye socket.
“It was getting more regular. Not every week but it was definitely happening,” he said.
The court was shown a photograph from Depp and Heard’s honeymoon on the Orient Express from Bangkok to Singapore. Mr Connolly said he took the photo and that it shows a swelling underneath Depp’s left eye.
“He’s walked into a door, or a door’s walked into him,” Mr Connolly said, when asked what his interpretation of the swelling was.
Heard alleges Depp was violent on this trip, which he has denied.
One more thing we learned on Day 11
Depp’s business manager Edward White told the court when he started working with the actor in 2016, his financial situation was “challenging” but plans were put in place to turn things round.
The court was told at one point towards the end of his marriage to Heard, Depp had a $160,000 wine bill – but this has shrunk to “virtually zero” now.
When will Heard take the stand?
According to Court TV, which is filming the trial live, Heard is expected to begin her testimony next week – which makes sense as that is the halfway point.
They also say that star witnesses who were set to testify – such as Musk, James Franco and Paul Bettany – may no longer be appearing.
Depp v Heard: The background
Depp is suing his ex-wife for $50m (£38.2m), over the opinion piece she wrote for the the Washington Post in 2018 which his lawyers say falsely implies he physically and sexually abused her. Heard has issued a counterclaim for $100m (£76.4m).
The former couple started dating after meeting on the set of the 2011 film The Rum Diary and married in Los Angeles in February 2015.
Heard’s Washington Post article did not mention Depp by name but was titled: “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath.” Depp has told the court that it is clear the article is about him and that he wants to clear his name.
The trial in Fairfax County, Virginia, has now been running for three weeks and is scheduled to last six weeks in total, with a week’s break in May.
In the opening statements, the actor’s lawyers said his ex was preparing for “the performance of a lifetime” during the trial, while her legal team said the case would expose the “real” person behind the “fame” and “pirate costumes”.
The trial does not sit on Fridays, so continues on Monday.