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Johnny Depp’s Lawyers Call Amber Heard ‘Profoundly Troubled’ Aggressor in Defamation Trial Opening

Heard’s lawyers counter that Depp’s ”Poor choices have brought him to this courtroom“

Lawyers pressing Johnny Depp’s defamation case against ex-wife Amber Heard painted their relationship as the opposite of what she’s described: Heard was the violence-prone aggressor, they said, who manipulated the “Pirates” star and often attacked him when he tried to avoid their escalating confrontations.

Depp’s attorneys had the first chance to present arguments to the jury on Tuesday, kicking off the trial that pivots on Heard’s op-ed published in The Washington Post in December 2018. Heard’s lawyers had a turn after a short break Tuesday morning, and each side was given a second round of statements in the split opening.

Depp lawyer Ben Chew opened by casting doubt on Heard’s claims of a violent attack, suggesting she may have staged her injuries. He argued that the marks pictured on Heard’s face and elsewhere, which she claimed were from a drug-and-alcohol fueled violent tirade by Depp in 2016, appeared “mysteriously” after the attack was alleged — and that multiple witnesses, including police officers and health-care workers, will testify that she was seen without them between the time of the alleged incident and her initial court filings.

“You’re going to learn that she’s a profoundly troubled person who manipulated people around her, like she manipulated Mr. Depp,” Chew said in the first statements of the trial. He also said security footage would show Heard and her sister faking a punching scene, then laughing about it, sometime after the incident but before she made her initial reports.

Amber Heard listens during opening statements by lawyers for ex-husband Johnny Depp [CourtTV]

The lawyers said she aggressively pursued their initial relationship, which they said Depp resisted at first, then held onto the upper hand, often beating and berating a cowering Depp when he would try to get away and de-escalate her confrontations.

“She’s taken the role of a lifetime,” said Depp co-counsel Camille Vasquez. “She can’t back down. She has been living and breathing this lie … but this trial is about the evidence. It’s about a man’s reputation. … We will ask you to tell the world that [this] is not the abuser that she described.”

Depp’s lawyers also brought up several anecdotes they say were typical of their troubled marriage, including an alleged incident where Heard threw a vodka bottle at Depp, which shattered and severed part of his finger. Heard lawyer Ben Rottenborn said that story isn’t credible — that Depp was in a blackout state when his finger was cut, and the injury was among the “many problems that he created.”

Heard’s lawyers also strongly disputed the Depp team’s assertions that the actress was being manipulative — saying her bruises were “absolutely given to her” by Depp. But Rottenborn also hinted that Heard’s defense against defamation allegations might get more technical than soapy: The op-ed at the center of his case is not only protected by the First Amendment, he said, but didn’t include anything defamatory.

“There are no details about Mr. Depp in that article,” he said. She was “asked to [write it], and she drew on her experiences of reporting domestic abuse. The article isn’t about Johnny Depp. … They don’t want you to pay attention to that.”

Depp is seeking $50 million in damages, claiming Heard’s op-ed, which called him a “wife beater,” was defamatory to the degree that it cost him his career, including his lucrative “Pirates” role in the Disney franchise. Rottenborn said that argument is just not seaworthy, and that Depp was already on very thin ice with Disney.

“He’s going to argue that this [Washington Post op-ed by Heard] lost him ‘Pirates 6.’ … The evidence will show that Disney had a dossier on him … but not this op-ed,” Heard’s team said. “So, any damages that he suffered in his career are not in this op-ed. It’s time to tell Mr. Depp … stop blaming other people for your problems.”

Heard’s lawyer suggested Depp’s claims he was defamed run contrary to his actions and statements in the early goings of their public legal battles.

“The evidence will show that in May of 2016,” Heard’s lawyer said, “Mr. Depp never denied the allegations. He signed a statement saying she hadn’t made any false statements! And it was only two years later … that he pounced, that he chose to bring this lawsuit.”

Depp and Heard’s high-profile legal battle finally made its way to court three years after the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star sued his actress ex-wife for defamation over an op-ed she published in the Washington Post about her experiences with domestic violence.

Depp and Heard married in 2015 but split in May 2016, when Heard sought a domestic violence restraining order against him and accused him of abusing her. Depp denied the claims, and the two settled their divorce out of court in August 2016.

More than 100 witnesses could be called to the stand over an estimated six weeks, and both Depp and Heard are scheduled to testify at the televised trial, held in Fairfax County, Virginia. Depp lost his 2020 defamation suit, against London-based The Sun, when a U.K. judge ruled that Heard’s allegations were “substantially true.”