FAIRFAX, Va. — Opening statements began Tuesday in the high-profile defamation trial in Fairfax County between actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.
The "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie star sued his ex-wife for $50 million over her 2018 opinion piece in The Washington Post titled "I spoke up against sexual violence - and faced our culture's wrath. That has to change."
The trial is being held in Fairfax since the computer servers that published the piece is in the county.
Even though Heard never mentioned Depp by his name, his attorneys argued the article is in reference to him and defamed his character. In his opening statement, attorney Ben Chew said Heard's false allegations that cast his client as a villain who abused women damaged his career and family, two years after she filed a restraining order against him.
"This trial is about clearing Mr. Depp's name," Chew told the jurors. "Today his name is associated with a lie, a false statement uttered by his former wife."
Depp's team painted the "Aquaman" actress as the aggressor in the relationship who was obsessed with her image and would get enraged when he tried to leave her. They argued she fabricated the abuse claims to avoid embarassment and wrote the 2018 piece to benefit her before the release of her superhero movie.
"She would berate him and scream at him," attorney Camille Vasquez said. "She would resort to physical violence."
Attorneys for Heard, who filed a counter lawsuit for $100 million, fired back by claiming Depp is using the lawsuit as a spectacle to embarrass her and wreck her career. They defended the allegations that Depp was the abuser in the relationship.
"He grabbed the cell phone, started hitting Amber, wound it up and bashed it into her face," one attorney said during the opening argument.
Attorney Ben Rottenborn stressed to the jury the trial is about the 2018 op-ed and not the previous relationship between the two. He read her entire piece during his opening and claimed everything she wrote was true.
"There are no details of any abuse in that article," he said. "The article is about proposed legislation and strengthening of government laws and policies designed to protect abuse victims."
Her team also denied her article damaged his career by pointing the blame at Depp and his alleged drug use.
"Mr. Depp will have to prove that the words Ms. Heard used were about him, and he can't do that, he can't come close to doing that," Rottenborn said.
Both actors are expected to take the stand in what could be a 6-week long trial presided by Judge Penney Azcarate. Depp will discuss his upbringing including his relationship with his mother that shaped how he responded to Heard, according to his attorneys. Meanwhile, attorneys for Heard said she will go into graphic detail about the abuse she endured by Depp including presenting pictures of marks and bruises on her.
They met while making a movie in 2011 and married four years later. They divorced in 2016.
Among the big names on the witness list are Tesla founder Elon Musk and actors James Franco and Paul Bettany.