When Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard face off — again — in a Fairfax, Va., court Monday, the $50 million defamation trial will lay bare their doomed marriage. But the two may be sparring with ghosts as well as each other, friends and family members told The Post.
The star-studded witness lists include Heard’s former lover Elon Musk, actor James Franco, “WandaVision” star Paul Bettany, Ellen Barkin, representatives from Disney and Warner Bros. as well as the ACLU and the LAPD and at least one nurse.
Among the evidence is previously unseen police bodycam footage from one of the ex-couple’s altercations, as well as explosive text messages between Depp and Bettany.
Depp and Heard will also take the stand.
Each has an army of lawyers and publicists coming in with guns blazing after Depp lost his libel trial against the Sun last summer, having sued the London paper for calling him a “wife beater” in a 2018 article. He said the charge was a lie and accused his “sociopathic” ex-wife of all the violence in their marriage. (During the London trial, Heard claimed that Depp was always the aggressor and any response from her was to defend herself.)
“Johnny’s team had a certain strategy in going to the UK to sue the Sun,” a source close to Heard’s team told The Post. “The burden was on the Sun to prove there was abuse, not Johnny. [His lawyers] thought they’d get a reasoned judgment in their favor and bring that back to the US to use in this trial. Instead they lost. So they are starting this case with a significant deficit and a much higher burden to meet.”
At stake this time is Depp’s contention that Heard defamed him in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed implying he was a domestic abuser. The headline of Heard’s piece read: “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”
Heard’s essay did not mention Depp by name but he said the implication was clear that it was him.
The new trial will focus on whether Heard was telling the truth about Depp’s alleged abuse of her, including during their fiery May 2016 blow-up in Los Angeles, which led to their separation and to the actress first accusing Depp of domestic violence.
But the difference this time is that numerous expert witnesses, who were not allowed in the London trial, have either already submitted testimony or will do so in court, sources said.
Two of the four LAPD police officers who responded to the 911 call from Heard’s address on May 21, 2016, did not testify in London, but their testimony will be heard in Fairfax — and, insiders say, could favor Depp’s side.
Those officers carried bodycams and that footage will be shown in court for the first time.
A person familiar with Heard’s case said to expect “more doctors and psychiatrists, more pictures, more audio, more video and more documents showing there was abuse. It will build on what was presented in London.”
Heard’s claim that she planned to give her $7 million divorce settlement to the ACLU and the Children’s Hospital will also be put under a microscope, according to people familiar with the case.
Depp’s team will present evidence that they say shows the actress did not donate the money as promised.
But Heard’s side is expected to claim that the donations were promised as “pledges” and that she has not been able to fulfill those pledges — yet — given the extensive post-divorce litigation.
Depp has 38 witnesses on his list and Heard has 81, although both have about the same number scheduled for in-person testimony. Some witnesses have already given testimony and will not appear in court. It was apparently impossible for Depp’s team to subpoena Musk, given his security entourage, but he is on Heard’s list as planning to testify by video link.
Heard’s 1,530-item exhibit list includes a text exchange between Depp and his “Avengers” co-star Paul Bettany, in which Depp writes: “Let’s burn Amber!!! … Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I will f—k her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.”
Many who know the ex-couple, including LA private investigator Paul Barresi, can’t understand why they are still going at it, suggesting both should move on and focus on restoring their careers and reputations.
“Johnny, and Amber Heard, should walk away,” Barresi, who was once hired by Heard’s team to look into Depp, said last month. “The time is long overdue for them to concentrate on their careers. They’d be better people for it.”
But insiders familiar with both Depp, 58, and Heard, 35, who were married in 2015 and divorced in 2017, say the ex-spouses’ long-running battle may seem like the “War of the Roses” — but actually has more Freudian overtones.
Several sources close to Depp and Heard told The Post the actor wants to clear his name for the sake of his kids (22-year-old actress Lily-Rose Depp and 19-year-old Jack Depp, whose mother is Vanessa Paradis). Heard, meanwhile, is said to want to stop what she sees as Depp’s continuing abuse of her.
Others said the drama surrounding the pair is more likely rooted in their respective pasts, not the present.
“These are two people who had troubled, abusive childhoods,” a source familiar with both Depp and Heard told The Post. “Amber had a difficult father that she once compared to Johnny, and Johnny’s mother was very tough on him. It may be why both of them keep fighting it out and not letting it go.”
Shadowing the Texas-born Heard and Depp, a native of Owensboro, Ky., are the mutual histories of trauma they carried with them long before they met one another.
Amber once compared Depp’s alleged violence and substance abuse issues to her dad, 71-year-old David Clinton Heard.
She testified during the London libel trial that, in March 2013, Depp went on a 36-hour cocaine and alcohol binge because he thought she was cheating on him. Heard also said that her father was abusive toward her mom, but her father’s abuse wasn’t as bad as Depp’s.
“My father was violent to my mother and they really loved each other …,” Heard testified. “He [Depp] makes my dad look like a saint when he falls off the wagon. My dad struggled with alcohol abuse issues his whole life. He’s an addict and he was very violent, but I love him very much.”
In the course of working for Heard against Depp, Barresi discovered that David Heard was once arrested, convicted, and served jail time for running a pit bull fighting ring in Texas in the 1980s.
Criminal court documents from Midland County, Texas, showed that David Heard ran a dogfighting ring with seven pit bulls on his 10-acre property.
Heard was included in a report released Wednesday by the Center for Countering Hate in London that outlines the abuse that some high-profile women face online.
“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 wrote in her Washington Post essay. “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,” she continued.
Depp, meanwhile, has been candid about his abusive childhood, saying that his mother, Betty Sue Palmer, who died in 2016, often beat him and threw objects at him, including an ashtray and a phone.
“My mom was maybe the meanest human being I have ever met in my life,” he said at her funeral, although he also said he loved her very much.
A close relative of Depp’s, who spoke to The Post on condition that her name not be used, admitted that Betty Sue could be tough.
“She was born and raised in a little place in Appalachia,” she said. “Her dad drank and clobbered them. You tend to pass that on. She was rough, she was strict. She never wanted us to turn into what she saw growing up.”
Despite their hardscrabble life, however, the relative never saw Johnny be physically abusive in childhood or as an adult. She should know, she said, because she and Johnny often fought as kids and adults.
“We’re of the same mind, we know what buttons to push,” the relative said. “I’ve been up in his face and he’s never touched me. I’ve never known him to physically hurt anyone. He walks away. Johnny uses words and he will tell you off but he doesn’t hit. That’s not who he is. It breaks my heart to see him accused of all this.”
The trial, which is expected to last six weeks, will be televised and may be even more of a circus than Depp’s three-week 2020 defamation trial.
Depp claims that Heard’s Washington Post piece damaged his reputation and ended his iconic run as Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise as well as his role in the “Fantastic Beasts” series.
In response to his defamation lawsuit against her, Heard filed a counterclaim of defamation asking for $100 million.
“This case being brought to trial is proof that the court acknowledges the notable amount of preliminary wins, evidence and witnesses in support of Johnny,” a spokesman for Depp told The Post.
“To decline the opportunity to clear one’s name and allow someone who is taking advantage of the system to walk away with zero repercussions would be careless and could set a dangerous precedent for similar situations in the future.”
Heard’s team has a different view.
“The UK High Court of Justice has already found that Mr. Depp engaged in at least 12 acts of domestic abuse against Amber in his libel suit against the London Sun,” a spokeswoman for Heard told The Post. “Now he’s seeking a different result in his libel suit against Amber.”
“Amber Heard fell in love with Johnny Depp, and believed that if she could help him stay clean and sober, he would stop the abuse and they could live their fairy tale life together,” she added. “Unfortunately, it became clear to Amber that she could not ‘fix’ Johnny, and the longer she stayed with him, the more she continued to be subjected to his emotional and physical abuse and risked her own safety. This lawsuit is simply Johnny’s mechanism to continue to abuse Amber.”