Editor’s Note: This article contains descriptions of sexual violence, which some readers may find troubling
Amber Heard’s legal team called their first witness Tuesday afternoon in Johnny Depp’s $50 million defamation trial against the “Aquaman” actress.
Dr. Dawn Hughes took the stand and told the court, in her opinion, Heard’s “report of intimate partner violence is consistent with what we know about intimate partner violence, characterized by physical violence, psychological aggression, sexual violence, coercive control and surveillance behaviors.”
Hughes, a clinical and forensic psychologist specializing in interpersonal violence and traumatic stress, was hired to conduct a psychological evaluation of Heard. Hughes told the Fairfax, Virginia, courtroom that she reviewed medical records, psychological records, texts, emails, audio and video recordings from the case and met with Heard’s therapists and the actress’ mother. Hughes said she also met with Heard for 29 hours over four visits in September 2019 and January 2021 for the evaluation.
The psychologist said Heard reported a number of physically violent behaviors by Depp. “He pushed her, he shoved her, he slapped her with the front of his hand and the back of his hand, he choked her, he slammed her into the wall, he pushed her and she fell down, he kicked her in the back,” Hughes said.
She also alleged that there were a number of incidents of sexual violence in the relationship.
“When Mr. Depp was drunk or high, he threw her on the bed, ripped off her nightgown and tried to have sex with her,” Hughes said. “There were times when he forced her to give him oral sex when he was angry.”
Hughes referenced one incident in which she said Depp accused another woman of hitting on Heard, and in response “Depp performed a cavity search.” She said the “Pirates of the Caribbean” actor was looking for drugs and “felt it acceptable to rip off her nightgown and stick his fingers up her vagina to look for cocaine.” She said the incidents often happened in a drug-fueled rage.
Hughes said another incident of sexual violence happened in Australia. She alleged Depp was beating and choking Heard, telling her he hated her and was going to kill her, then “grabbed a bottle that was on the bar and penetrated her with that bottle.” Hughes said Heard told her she went outside her body and thought, “Oh God, I hope it’s not the broken [bottle].”
Hughes said, “The second main opinion was that Ms. Heard demonstrated very clear psychological and traumatic affects or the exacerbation of trauma from those statements that Mr. Depp made through his attorney.”
“I diagnosed Ms. Heard with post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Hughes. She said the cause was “intimate partner violence by Mr. Depp.” Her diagnosis contradicts the opinion of Dr. Shannon Curry who was hired by Depp’s legal team to evaluate Heard. Curry testified that Heard did not have PTSD and that the actress “grossly exaggerated symptoms of PTSD.”
Hughes said she disagrees with Curry’s assessment because “there were flaws in how she chose to administer it,” she said. She also disputed Curry’s diagnosis that Heard has borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder. “I did not make a personality disorder diagnosis of Ms. Heard,” Hughes told the court.
Heard also reported to Hughes several injuries she said were sustained by abuse, “mostly bruising, pain, some cuts, vaginal pain from some of the sexual assaults, she reported that she did have some scratches and cuts on her from broken glass, she reported that she believed she may have lost consciousness two times.”
Hughes said Depp engaged in coercive control. “He didn’t want her to show nudity, he didn’t want her to show boob, he didn’t want her to work with certain actors because of this excessive jealousy.” As a result, Hughes said Heard’s career suffered.
During Hughes’ testimony, Heard turned toward the jury and appeared to hold back tears as Hughes detailed instances of alleged physical and sexual abuse.
Depp’s legal team rested their case earlier in the day after 13 days of testimony and more than a dozen witnesses including bodyguards, Hollywood insiders, doctors and accountants.
Before resting, the Depp team called forensic accountant Mike Spindler to the stand, who said Depp lost 10’s of millions of dollars as a result of Heard’s 2018 Washington Post op-ed.
“I concluded that Mr. Depp suffered lost earnings of approximately $40 million,” Spindler said.
The accounting expert was hired by Depp’s team to calculate the actor’s total lost earnings from the piece, in which Heard described herself as a public figure representing domestic abuse, although she did not name Depp.
Spindler said he reviewed “accounting records, trial exhibits, deposition and trial testimony, and various other documents and exhibits in connection with the case.” He calculated Depp’s lost earnings by analyzing the period from October 2018 through October 2020, after the op-ed was released.
In another development Tuesday, Judge Penney Azcarate rejected Heard’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit.
Heard’s attorney had argued that Depp didn’t meet the threshold of burden and the case should be thrown out. Attorney Ben Rottenborn told the court, “Mr. Depp bears the burden of proving that by preponderance of the evidence and to satisfy the requisite intent and show that Ms. Heard acted with actual malice. He has a heightened standard of proof that he must prove by clear and convincing evidence that Ms. Heard acted with that malice.”
“In this case your honor, if Mr. Depp abused Ms. Heard physically, verbally, emotionally or psychologically even one time, then she wins on those claims,” Rottenborn said. He added that the evidence “is overwhelming and undisputed” that Depp did.
The “Aquaman” actress is expected to take the stand Wednesday.