UPDATED, 1:38 PM: Amber Heard suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, a clinical and forensic psychologist told a Virginia jury today in Johnny Depp’s $50 million defamation trial against the Aquaman star over Heard’s 2018 Washington Post op-ed on domestic violence. In potentially damning testimony, Dr. Dawn Hughes also said that Heard repeatedly was “subjected to sexual violence” from Depp.
“There are a number of incidents of sexual violence reported in this relationship,” Hughes testified. “Those are documented early on … where when Mr. Depp was drunk or high. He threw her on the bed, ripped off her nightgown and tried to have sex with her,” she specified. Hughes graphically exclaimed that when Depp was “not able to perform” during such instances, he would become even further “enraged.”
“There were times when he forced her to give him oral sex when he was angry — these weren’t loving moments, these were angry moments,” the New York-based doctor additionally emphasized for Judge Penny Azcarte and the jurors, detailing other body penetration in a drug-fueled rage.
“Moments of dominance, moments of him trying to get control over her,” Hughes asserted.
In her testimony, the psychologist pointed out a particular alleged attack while the couple was in Australia for the filming of the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie where a “I will kill you”-bellowing Depp put a bottle inside Heard’s body. In a calm voice, Hughes told the court that Heard told her later that at that moment of alleged assault, all she could think was she hoped the bottle Depp was penetrating her with “wasn’t the broken one.”
Depp and his various lawyers always have denied any sexual violence by him in the couple’s relationship.
“The intimate partner violence by Mr. Depp was the cause of Heard’s PTSD condition,” Hughes asserted on Tuesday in her opening testimony for the defense. Since before the high-profile couple’s media-spotlighted and restraining-order-filled divorce in 2016, Heard has alleged that her relationship with the drug- and booze-abusing Pirates star was marked by sexual, psychical, emotional and verbal violence.
Depp “pushed Heard, he shoved her, he slapped her with the front of his hand and the back of his hand, he choked her, he slammed her into the wall, he pushed her, and when she fell down he kicked her in the back,” Hughes testified this afternoon in the fourth week of what is designated as a five-week trial. Hughes also emphasized Depp’s controlling nature and how it plagued Heard personally and professionally. Along with “whore” and anatomy-defining language, “ambitious” became an “derogatory” term from blockbuster leading man to Heard, Hughes said Tuesday.
Often consulting her notes, and often having that process objected to by Depp’s side, Hughes told the court that she conducted a forensic evaluation of Heard, who has “never been a client” of the Manhattan-based psychologist. Board-certified Hughes informed the court that she saw Heard over 21.5 hours in NYC and in-person follow ups in January 2021 and one over Zoom in December 2021.
Curtly disagreeing with previous Depp witness Dr. Shannon Curry — who evaluated the actress for 12 hours in 2021 — that Heard exaggerated her response and “feigned” trauma, Hughes also noted “I always approach a forensic evaluation with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Even with that caveat, Hughes informed Heard main lawyer Elaine Bredehoft that her “main opinion is that Ms. Heard’s report of intimate partner violence and the records I reviewed is consistent with what we know in the field about intimate partner violence, characterized by physical violence, psychological aggression, sexual violence, coercive control and surveillance behaviors.”
Acknowledging later that there was some “mild violence” by Heard to Depp, Hughes added, “the second main opinion was that Ms. Heard demonstrated very clear psychological and traumatic effects … from those statements that Mr. Depp made through his attorney.” Those widely reported statements to the media and online by Depp wingman of sorts Adam Waldman are the core of the $100 million countersuit Heard launched in summer 2020.
In what looks to be a disruption tactic, Depp’s Waldman-less legal team today was full of objections and requests to approach the judge during what seemed to be pivotal parts of Hughes’ testimony. That happened once just as Hughes started to offer her assessment of why Curry’s diagnosis of Heard having borderline personality disorder, a phrase Depp seems to have been using for years to describe his Rum Diary co-star, with a Depp attorney scurrying to the judge and proceedings grinding to a halt.
After things resumed, Hughes said that no other therapist regularly seeing Heard labeled her with borderline personality disorder. She acknowledged that one therapist who saw Heard less frequently viewed the couple as both engaging in violence in the relationship. Hughes also said that at least two doctors worried that things could turn much worse for Heard if the violence from Depp wasn’t stopped.
Going to the end of today’s session, Hughes will face what is sure to be a sharp-elbowed cross examination on Wednesday. Heard is anticipated to take the stand later tomorrow. Heard’s testimony for sure will go to the end of the week and pick up on May 16 after the court goes dark for a scheduled one-week pause.
PREVIOUSLY, 12:14 PM: Amber Heard’s defense in Johnny Depp’s $50 million defamation trial against his ex-wife kicked off today with bracing testimony on the danger signs of domestic abuse.
Collected in her tone and words in the Virginia courtroom after the lunch break Tuesday, Dr. Dawn Hughes only mentioned the Pirates of the Caribbean actor and Aquaman actress once in passing in the first part of her time on the stand , but it was clear to all the building blocks the psychologist specializing in violence, abuse and traumatic stress was putting in place in chronicling “the cycle of violence” and rising levels of abuse, including “sexual assault.”
In opening arguments in mid-April, Heard’s lawyers dramatically told Judge Penny Azcarte, the jury and other onlookers that out of the anger-, drug- and booze-fueled behavior by the past Oscar nominee there was at least one sexual assault upon the actress by Depp during their 2013-16 relationship.
With near-expressionless Heard and a downcast Depp both looking on, Hughes methodically laid out under questioning from lead defense lawyer Elaine Bredehoft the criteria and patterns of domestic violence, psychical, verbal, emotional and sexual. Correspondingly, noting power dynamics and “gender symmetry,” the clinical and forensic psychologist detailed the “love bombing” response where gifts and other effusive behavior from a man follows abusive outbursts. Trying to take the sting out of audio tapes and Depp witness testimony the past two week on Heard’s own behavior Hughes made a point of noting that “woman may yell at her partner because she is angry” from being abused.
Highlighting “the appearance of normalcy,” Hughes aimed to puncture the expected common reactions to the “trauma” of abuse. The inside doesn’t match the outside,” Hughes said of the powerful role repression plays for many women who have been abused or are being abused.
“It very difficult for people to stand up and say something,,” she went on to tell Bredehoft of how family, friends and employees’ hesitancy to get involved in a couple’s abusive patterns “even if they see a trashed window or a bruise.“ “You have to examine context,” Hughes went on to say. Seeking to pull out another quiver in Depp’s team’s arsenal, the medical professional confirmed that women can become violent, often in situations of self-defense. She added that “we have to be careful” not the dismiss that there can be abuse of men by women, as well as abuse within same-sex relationships. However, citing the statistics, she stressed the overwhelming majority of abusive and even fatal cases in America in 2022 are men hurting women
Brought on as the defense’s first witness, as Deadline exclusively reveled yesterday, NYC-based and board certified Hughes’ primary role in the case is to refute the testimony and diagnosis of Depp witness Dr. Shannon Curry. On the stand last week and holding her own pretty well under cross examination, Curry told the court that in her opinion Heard has both borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder. Hired by Team Depp as an expert witness, L.A.-based Curry’s take on the Aquaman actress is based mostly on a single 12-hour session between Curry and Heard late last year.
As noted by Heard’s attorneys, the not-board-certified Curry’s evaluation of Heard having BPD in 2021 exactly matches the unofficial diagnosis that Depp hurled at his then-partner in an argument from several years ago — an audio tape of which was played for the jury last week.
In the trench warfare that the trial has become in its fourth week, blunting the claws of a negative clinical profile of their client is a clear top priority for Heard’s s Bredehoft- and Ben Rottenborn-led legal team. Washing off any taint that Curry’s opinion may have put on the actress could significantly assist in resetting the narrative and tone of Heard herself to the jury before she takes the stand to tell her version of events.
The much-delayed five-week long trial that started on April 11 all stems from Depp’s March 2019 defamation suit over the late 2018 Washington Post op-ed that Heard penned on being a survivor of domestic abuse. Even though the op-ed never mentioned Depp by name, the actor insisted that his ex-wife’s words were all about him and cost him big and well-paying roles. In fact, as has been evident throughout this case in the Fairfax County Courthouse, Depp says that he was the actual victim of abuse in the relationship with Heard, not her.
Of course, as effective or not as that line of argument has been for Depp and his legal team so far and the power of testimony from employees of his that a raging Heard swung at him more than once, two issues hobble them scoring a home run.
Firstly, Depp and Heard had a very public and restraining order defined divorce in 2016, which brought many of the issues of abuse as well as the actor’s booze and drug use into the public square. So, as much as the ACLU and others might have wished otherwise, Heard’s op-ed was old news on one level. Secondly, despite Depp’s ex-CAA agent and current talent manager Jack Whigham’s testimony that Depp has an option deal for $22.5 million for a sixth Pirates of the Caribbean film, the plaintiff’s side can’t produce any paperwork or confirmation from Disney of such an agreement. On the other hand, after a disruptive and sometimes bloody stint for Depp on 2017’s Dead Men Tells No Tales, the defense put forth a variety of articles and inferences that the actor had been cut loose from the Jerry Bruckheimer-EP’d franchise. Under questioning from Rottenborn during his own time on the stand, Depp admitted that even if Disney offered him “$300 million” and more, he wouldn’t want to return to make another Pirates flick.
Following a standard and essentially required practice in the Old Dominion’s judicial system, Heard’s team put forth a motion to strike after Depp’s case was concluded. As was expected, Judge Penny Azcarate rejected the motion and moved the case forward. The judge did not offer a ruling today on whether a defamation claim should survive regarding one of Heard’s tweets of the 2018 WaPo op-ed.
However, with the jury out of the room, the remarks by Depp lawyer Ben Chew over the motion and his pointing at nearby Heard left a bad taste with some on the other side. “Counsel was insulting,” a source close to Heard told Deadline today after the incident. “Counsel was condescending. Counsel was not telling the real story.”
“We want it to stop. We want it to stop for Amber, and she wants it to stop for all women who speak up … or write op-eds,” the individual added.
In the context of stopping, before the trial began, Heard tried repeatedly to get the case dismissed or moved to another jurisdiction. Failing that, even before Depp lost his 2020 UK libel suit against Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun tabloid for calling him a “wife beater,” Heard filed a $100 million countersuit nearly two years ago.
Having been in court every day for the past four weeks, Heard is on track to be the second defense witness and begin her testimony tomorrow. Running Monday to Thursdays, the trial will hit the pause button next week as Judge Azcarte has a previously scheduled conference to attend.
That break could prove a benefit or a hindrance to the defense depending on where things are at the end of Thursday’s session. It seems obvious that the defense would want to avoid cross examination of Heard starting before the break in order to keep the ball and timeline in their court going into the trial’s final week – or not.