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article imageJohnny Depp's blockbuster libel trial wraps up

By Sylvain PEUCHMAURD (AFP)     Jul 27, 2020 in Entertainment

Johnny Depp's blockbuster libel lawsuit wraps up Tuesday after three weeks of graphic testimony in which the star admitted to years of drug abuse but denied beating ex-wife Amber Heard.

The "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise hero is suing the publisher and executive editor of Britain's The Sun tabloid in London's High Court over a 2018 story calling him a "wife beater".

The 57-year-old rejects accusations of repeatedly hurting the 34-year-old actress over a three-year span that ended with Heard's 2016 decision to get a restraining order and file for divorce.

Depp's former American fiance Winona Ryder and long-term French partner Vanessa Paradis both testified on his behalf.

But The Sun's lawyer called Depp a "Jekyll and Hyde" character who was "controlling and physically abusive towards Ms Heard" -- especially when he was on drugs.

"The defendants have established that many more than one incident of wife-beating took place over the course of the relationship," defence lawyer Sasha Wass said in her closing submission Monday.

Depp's legal team will make its closing statement on Tuesday.

Judge Andrew Nicol is then expected to take some days poring over 12 bulging volumes of evidence submitted in a case that was born at the hight of the #MeToo movement.

- 'The damage is done' -

Some legal experts say Depp's reputation will have trouble recovering even if The Sun is forced to retract its claim.

"I think the damage is done," said London PR agent and crisis consultant Mark Borkowski. "Even if he wins, it's going to be a Pyrrhic victory."

The odds favour Depp because England's strict libel laws put the burden of proof on the media.

That puts one of Britain's most popular newspapers in danger of having to cover huge court expenses and pay damages in the middle of a media industry crisis made even worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sun's defeat could also imperil Heard's Hollywood career.

"If The Sun wins, Heard will likely be viewed as a brave crusader in the domestic violence and #MeToo arena." said defamation case lawyer Emily Cox.

"If The Sun loses, Heard could well find herself ostracised by those movements and by Hollywood."

Judge Nicol is at liberty to award his own damages figure in what UK media have dubbed "the biggest English libel trial of the 21st century".

- 'Cinderella to Quasimodo' -

The trial kicked off with three days of gruelling cross-examination in which Depp admitted only hazily recalling some episodes because he was high and drunk.

Depp revealed at one stage that he started snorting cocaine to kick his addiction to prescription painkillers.

He argued that he was suffering "uncontrollable spasms" during withdrawal and was in "no physical condition" to hurt Heard in one alleged incident.

The Sun's lawyers also produced a statement from Depp's doctor concluding that the actor "romanticises the drug culture" and was only going through rehab for show.

"We are a crime scene waiting to happen," Depp told Heard after one fight.

But he also portrayed his wife as a manic aggressor who was making up the allegations for money and personal fame.

Depp said Heard's claims turned him "from Cinderella to Quasimodo in 0.6 seconds".

- Fatal attraction -

Heard countered that Depp's drug habit made him an unrecognisable "monster" who would go on days-long binges in which he lost control.

She accused him of throwing bottles at her "like grenades" and striking her in the face with a phone.

"Some incidents were so severe that I was afraid he was going to kill me, either intentionally or just by losing control and going too far," she said in a witness statement.

"He explicitly threatened to kill me many times, especially later in our relationship."

Yet both Heard and Depp acknowledged loving each other deeply on their good days.

"We had had a wonderful year together where he was sober," she said. "I loved him and I didn't want to lose that."

Depp conceded that Heard did her best trying to get him off drugs in 2014.

"She does have a heart and she understands the pain I was experiencing," he told the court.

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