Johnny Depp Fans Are Really Into His Defamation Trial Against Amber Heard

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Getty Images

Fairfax County, Virginia, court officials would not tolerate disorder. Johnny Depp’s defamation trial against Amber Heard was starting the morning of April 11 with jury selection. They would not let these proceedings devolve into a circus.

“There will be no overnight camping on Courthouse grounds,” a court order warned.

“Litigants and their legal teams in this trial will not pose for pictures or sign autographs in the Courthouse or on Courthouse grounds.”

“Any violation of this order may be found as contempt and will be punished accordingly.”

So far, it seems to have gone to plan. Depp’s fans, who started showing up at 5 a.m., have followed the rules, though some want to get closer to him than the mandates allow. At least one wanted an autograph. One wanted to give him flowers. It is, however, only day one of the trial — and if about 30 fans showed up just for jury selection, it could be messy when the things really get rolling with celebrity testimony set for James Franco, Elon Musk, and more. Spectators outside explained why they supported Depp despite the allegations.

In the courthouse café, fans chatted with one another about their dislike of Heard. One supporter told another, “When somebody says, ‘I heard something’ … I hate to even use the word heard.” Several chatted about a red-carpet moment they once saw, during which fans beckoned Depp over. “The pissed look on her face,” one fan tut-tutted. Other commentary included “I don’t bother with her” and “She’s evil.”

The reason for the scene stems from a December 2018 op-ed Heard published in the Washington Post. In her column, Heard called for more support to help women who come forward with domestic-violence allegations. Heard cited personal experience in demanding more support.

“Like many women, I had been harassed and sexually assaulted by the time I was of college age. But I kept quiet — I did not expect filing complaints to bring justice. And I didn’t see myself as a victim,” Heard said in her column. “Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”

“Friends and advisers told me I would never again work as an actress — that I would be blacklisted. A movie I was attached to recast my role. I had just shot a two-year campaign as the face of a global fashion brand, and the company dropped me,” Heard further wrote. “Questions arose as to whether I would be able to keep my role of Mera in the movies ‘Justice League’ and ‘Aquaman.’”

While Heard did not name her alleged accuser, the timing of this op-ed pointed to Depp. In 2016, Heard alleged that Depp had abused her. In March 2019, Depp filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit against Heard over her column. “The op-ed’s clear implication that Mr Depp is a domestic abuser is categorically and demonstrably false,” the civil suit charges. Depp claimed that Heard’s writing destroyed his reputation and career. He pointed to Disney dropping him from the role of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. Depp, who adamantly denied these allegations, claimed that Heard actually abused him. Heard ultimately filed counterclaims against Depp, contending that his denials defamed her.

The former couple’s competing defamation claims may well have deeper implications. If abused persons see that a high-profile accuser is getting sued for making allegations, they might be too afraid to speak out. And even if accusers do decide to speak out, the prospect of fighting potentially costly litigation compounds the stress and shame of going public with allegations.“There is a concern that defamation lawsuits brought against women who speak out against intimate-partner violence will have a chilling effect on others who may seek to do the same,” said Moira Penza, the former federal prosecutor who brought down the NXIVM sex cult.

Further complicating everything is the fact that another court already ruled that Depp abused her. Depp sued The Sun, a British tabloid, for an April 2018 column that referred to him as a “wife-beater.” The judge tossed Depp’s U.K. libel claim, finding that The Sun’s piece was “substantially true.” In coming to that finding, the judge decided that Depp had assaulted Heard one dozen times and caused her to “fear for her life” on three occasions.

The die-hard Depp fans do not believe that he has done anything wrong. They were eager to get one of the 50 seats in the overflow courtroom, where spectators and journalists could watch jury selection. Depp and Heard could be seen on several TV screens that projected into the overflow courtroom, but only their backs were visible. Despite this, spectators who were there to support Depp seemed to have a good time. They sat turned to whichever screen was closer to them and were almost rapt, laughing not only when Judge Penney Azcarate cracked jokes but whenever a prospective juror said something even remotely unflattering about Heard. When one prospective juror was asked if he was familiar with the case, he said he was at a wedding this past weekend when he heard his wife talking about Depp. 

Had he heard about Heard?

“I honestly already forgot the name of the other party,” he said, prompting fans to erupt into laughter. One woman thought it was so funny that she slapped her lap.

Another prospective juror said she learned of the trial after telling her boss that she had to take off work for jury duty. “She says, ‘Oh my God, are you there for this particular trial?’ And then a few of the co-workers started talking,” she said. “It was just more of excitement about a Hollywood-type trial.”

The fans’ favorite moment came shortly after a prospective juror told Azcarate that his wife “takes Mr. Depp’s side” in the case. He exchanged texts with her that morning, telling her there were TV crews and a “group of young girls with signs” outside. He figured out that they would be selecting jurors in Depp’s trial today. Azcarate asked him to read the texts.

So he did. “Amber Heard is psychotic. Johnny was set up,” one text from his wife said. “No one pays attention to spousal abuse when the husband is the victim.”

“Tell them that I beat you LOL,” his wife’s text also read. 

Her messages were met with applause from spectators. When the judge said the juror was still in the running for now, one spectator’s jaw dropped.

Around three in the afternoon, a jury of seven jurors and four alternates was selected. The juror married to the Depp fan was not among them.

This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly. 

Johnny Depp Fans Are Really Into His Defamation Trial