Johnny Depp's diehard fans shrug off mounting evidence

Judge Penney Azcarate on Tuesday rejected a motion to throw out Amber Heard's $100m counter-suit

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The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation trial, which began on April 11, has captured the world’s attention — for the second time.

Depp is suing his ex-wife for $50 million, claiming that a Washington Post op-ed written by Heard in which, without naming names, she describes herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse”, is libellous.

Now in its sixth week, the court proceedings, which are being streamed live, have seen the ratings of small cable networks skyrocket, creating legions of armchair jurors — most of them in favour of Depp.

In spite of losing a similar case in the UK, where it is significantly easier to win defamation cases, Depp chose to pursue a second case against Heard.

In the UK case, Depp sued the publisher of the tabloid The Sun for calling him a “wife beater”.

Unlike the current trial, there were no cameras and no jurors, and only one judge rendering his verdict, in which e found 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence had occurred.

The judge said The Sun had proved what was in the article to be “substantially true” and made reference to the couple’s now infamous row that took place in Australia in 2015, where Depp was filming a fifth instalment of the Pirates of the Caribbean.

“It is a sign of the depth of his rage that he admitted scrawling graffiti in blood from his injured finger and then, when that was insufficient, dipping his badly injured finger in paint and continuing to write messages and other things,” the judge said after rendering his final verdict.

“I accept her evidence of the nature of the assaults he committed against her. They must have been terrifying.”

Judge Penney Azcarate on Tuesday rejected a motion from Depp's lawyers to toss out Heard’s $100m counterclaim against Depp, which claims the actor's then-lawyer, Adam Waldman, defamed the actress when he called her abuse allegations “a hoax”.

Ms Azcarate said there is enough evidence to allow it to go forward and had earlier ruled that Depp could be held responsible for statements made by his lawyer — a principle Depp's team disputes.

Depp has denied that he ever struck or abused Heard.

Despite a parade of expert witnesses and mutual friends giving evidence that Depp’s drug and alcohol abuse turned him into “a monster” and that his consequent behaviour led Hollywood to turn their backs on the star, his legions of fans are sticking with him.

The trial is taking place in Fairfax County, Virginia, about 4,300 kilometres from Depp’s home in Los Angeles, California. He chose to file there as it is the corporate home of The Washington Post, which is owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos.

And every day since the trial began, legions of Depp fans have queued up for an opportunity to be seated in the courtroom, some of them sleeping on the pavement to guarantee their space in line.

Others come dressed in elaborate costumes, such as Tina Rhinehart, a hairdresser from Fairfax, who came as Depp's beloved character Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean.

The lifelong Fairfax resident said the trial was the most excitement the Washington suburb had ever seen.

“There has never been anything like this in Fairfax and I don’t think there will be anything like this again. We don’t get movie stars in Fairfax,” Ms Rhinehart told The National.

If they are unable to be admitted, fans gather in the courthouse cafeteria or remain outside in hopes of catching a glimpse of Depp.

One woman brought her pet alpacas dressed in pirate costumes.

Sophia Kang, a lifelong fan of Pirates of the Caribbean, held a sign reading “Justice for Johnny”. The Fairfax resident was convinced of Depp’s innocence.

“I just hope that Johnny Depp gets the justice he deserves,” she said.

Deep in the recesses of the Fairfax County Circuit Court, three college students sat at a table in the cafeteria gossiping about the trial.

The three young women queued up at 12.45am to get a seat in the courtroom.

Christina Taft of Los Angeles voices her support for actress Amber Heard while standing with a supporter of actor Johnny Depp outside the Fairfax County Court in Fairfax, Virginia. AFP

“It was kind of like The Hunger Games,” said one of the young women, who identified herself only as Abigail.

“They told us we weren't allowed to run but everyone just started sprinting, because it was all the way down the other end … it was a madhouse.”

A lone woman, Christina Taft of Los Angeles, holds up a sign supporting Heard. Using a bullhorn, Ms Taft voices her support for women who are the victims of abuse — and when she does, she is quickly surrounded by Depp supporters whose shouts drown her out.

Closing arguments are set for Friday and then the jury, comprised of mostly men, will decide Heard’s fate.

Updated: May 26, 2022, 1:01 PM
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