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Jury sides with Johnny Depp in his defamation case against ex-wife Amber Heard

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A verdict today in the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation trial that has, perhaps unexpectedly, captivated people around the world. Millions of viewers were watching this afternoon on TV and online as the jury filed back into the courtroom to deliver their decision.

Among those watching was NPR's Neda Ulaby. Hey, Neda.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Hi. How are you doing?

KELLY: Hey, I'm fine. All right. So what was it? What's the verdict?

ULABY: Well, the jury sided with Johnny Depp, resoundingly so. Now, both actors were actually found to have been defamed, but if you're just judging by the dollar figures, Depp clearly came out ahead. Over the course of this case, both movie stars accused each other of multiple forms of domestic and sexual violence, ranging from cutting off a finger to leaving unspeakable things in a bed. Of course, at issue was a 2018 op-ed written by Amber Heard that was published in The Washington Post. That was the basis of this lawsuit from Depp, whether Heard had defamed him in the piece that ran from the Post.

And we've got a little tape from the courtroom, which, by the way, was surprisingly less packed today. Here's part of the verdict being read where Amber Heard's op-ed is being quoted.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: Quote, "I spoke up against sexual violence and faced our culture's wrath. That has to change," end quote. Do you find that Mr. Depp has proven all the elements of defamation? Answer - yes.

ULABY: So, Mary Louise, you might find that surprising, that that quote was seen as defamatory. Another quote that was ruled as being in Depp's favor was, I quote, "I had the rare vantage point of seeing in real time how institutions protect men accused of abuse." Over and over, the jury ruled that statements like those were defamatory and that Heard had acted with actual malice.

KELLY: And a question about the size of what has been awarded, because there was some speculation that, you know, it might be as small as a dollar, something symbolic. Johnny Depp got way more than that.

ULABY: He got way more. The jury awarded Johnny Depp a grand total of $15 million - 10 million in compensatory damages and 5 million in punitive damages. And Depp, by the way, was not even in the courtroom. He's in the U.K. performing with the musician Jeff Beck. So it's possible he was confident about how this would turn out.

And he, by the way, released a statement to NBC News that reads, quote, "I hope that my quest to have the truth be told will have helped others, men or women, who have found themselves in my situation and that those supporting them never give up."

KELLY: Not a total victory to Johnny Depp, though. You said both of these actors were found to have been defamed.

ULABY: Right. Heard claimed that Depp's lawyer had publicly accused her of making up allegations of abuse. And so the jury ruled with Heard on 1 of 3 claims of defamation, so just one. She was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages in that suit.

It should be noted, Mary Louise, that Heard has been the target of extreme internet vitriol during this trial. She posted on Instagram shortly after the verdict was read. And she said, 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.

KELLY: What does it mean for the two of them? What's next?

ULABY: Because this happened in a Virginia court, Johnny Depp will only receive 350,000 of the 5 million he was awarded in punitive damages. And I'm not entirely sure what Amber Heard's options are as for legal recourse, but this is a blow for an actress who has far less power in Hollywood than Johnny Depp. You could hear a lot of his fans outside the courtroom. They've been there for weeks, cheering and chanting as the verdict was read. He said he wanted to ruin her. He's made a great deal of progress.

KELLY: NPR's Neda Ulaby - thank you, Neda.

ULABY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.