Law&Crime’s Jesse Weber on the Wildest Moments From Depp vs. Heard, The Mood Inside the Courtroom, and What He Thinks of Pro-Depp Mania
Law&Crime’s Jesse Weber has been on the ground in Virginia throughout Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s ongoing defamation trial.
Since the blockbuster celebrity trial began on April 11, both actors and several witnesses and experts have been called to the stand in Virginia’s Fairfax County Circuit Court. Clips of nearly every witness’ testimony have gone viral, while social media users have started sharing their own opinions and theories, creating a boom in Depp vs. Heard coverage and conversation.
Looking for a breakdown of the trial and its most shocking moments, I spoke with Jesse Weber, an attorney and anchor at Mediaite’s sister site Law&Crime, who has had a seat in the tense Virginia courtroom throughout the proceedings.
Weber and I spoke while the trial was on break this week, during which he clarified the structure of the case, gave his thoughts on the testimonies, and shared some of the wildest things he has seen both inside and out of the courtroom.
There seems to be some confusion surrounding the structure of the trial considering Depp and Heard are suing each other. How does that work? Will there be a separate trial following this one? A separate jury?
What’s happening right now — it’s a little bit of a complicated case. Depp is suing Heard for $50 million for defamation. He has already presented his side of the case. He has rested his side of the case, and now Heard is presenting her side of the case. She’s not only defending herself against the defamation claim, but she’s also countersuing Depp for $100 million for saying that he defamed her. That he defamed her by publicly calling her a liar and telling everybody that she created a hoax about her injuries.
The jury is going to have two things to decide. They’re going to have to decide whether or not Heard is liable to Depp, and they’re also going to have to determine whether or not Depp is liable to Heard. If they should choose that one of them is liable to the other, then it becomes a separate question of damages and how much that person is owed if this trial concludes.
So then is it theoretically possible that they would both lose their cases? If a jury finds that neither defamed the other?
That’s definitely a possibility. The only difficulty with that is, first of all, I think there’s a strong possibility Depp’s going to lose his case. If the jury finds one instance of abuse, it’s going to be very hard for them to find that Heard defamed him in that Washington Post article.
So let’s say that he loses and the jury doesn’t believe that Heard lied about him. Then you could also see them saying, well, if she didn’t lie about him, then did he lie about her? Well, if he lied about her, maybe there’s some merit to her counterclaim.
There’s a separate question regarding if it’s really on him. Has he been orchestrating this public smear campaign against Heard, or was it more his former lawyer, Adam Waldman? We expect him to testify in this case. We’ll wait and see.
So far, we’ve heard more about whether or not Heard defamed Depp in The Washington Post article than we’ve heard about the counterclaims. But yes, it is possible that they both could lose.
One of Heard’s attorneys noted that Depp was not suing Heard over abuse or any actions he accused her of while on the stand – how important is that for their defense?
Depp is suing Heard for the 2018 Washington Post article. He is not suing her for any allegation that she made in 2016. He’s not suing her for seeking a temporary restraining order in 2016. The reason that is important, is because the argument is that when you’re suing somebody for defamation, you really just have to look at the four corners of the Washington Post article, those statements.
Now, there’s a separate argument. That there’s something called defamation by implication. In other words, everybody who read that article knew what she was referring to Depp, and so it does matter about what she said in 2016. But, I am of the argument that they’re making a really strong point there, that he’s not suing her for anything that happened before the 2018 article.
So it’s really important to focus on the Washington Post article, and I will tell you, when Depp was on the stand, he even seemed to get a little flustered and a little confused about what exactly he was suing for, and that’s going to be really important for the jury to understand.
How successful has Heard’s team been in proving that Depp’s fall from grace was due to his struggles with substance abuse and not the Post column?
Look, I think we can all agree that the allegations asserted by Heard when she first asserted them in 2016 damaged Depp. But again, he’s not suing about the 2016 allegations, he’s suing about the 2018 Washington Post article, so I think they’re making a pretty strong argument there.
For me, it is not entirely clear that he lost Pirates of the Caribbean Six because of the Washington Post article. He might have lost it because of everything that happened before. The Depp team brought in an economic damages expert who said Depp suffered lost earnings of $40 million after 2018. But this examiner couldn’t definitively say what caused that, so I think Heard’s team is making a really strong argument right now about what impact this article had and how many people read it, and how much this changed Depp’s career.
How convincing did you find Heard’s testimony? Do you think she successfully “reframed the narrative”?
Let’s first start off with, all it takes — and she has alleged so many instances of abuse against Depp — is the jury to believe one of those instances. Then they will say that she is a victim of domestic abuse and she did not lie about him in the Washington Post article.
Now, a lot of what she’s testifying to was behind closed doors. There were no eyewitnesses, so it’s really whether or not they believe her.
When people see her testimony, they say she sounds rehearsed, scripted, or fake. I have three ways of looking at that.
One, it could be that maybe she is faking it and making up all of these details, which, by the way, that’s a lot of details to make up. And when she’s facing cross-examination from Depp’s side, she has to remember all of those details otherwise it’s going to look like a lie. So, number one, maybe she is making it up. Number two, maybe that’s just the way she speaks. Or number three, and I think this could be a real possibility, maybe she is scripted, maybe she is rehearsed, maybe she is over-prepared because she’s providing really important testimony — but it doesn’t change the fact that she’s telling the truth.
Why do you think the public has been so pro-Depp?
I think things have come out in the last three or four weeks of trial that people didn’t know about her and there was evidence that she did hit him. There was evidence that she was verbally abusive and that turned a lot of people off.
Remember, he presented his case first, and so the public kind of turned on her and thought that maybe she is actually lying about Depp.
Now, when he took the stand, he came off, I think, in a relatable way in the sense that he kind of struggled to find the words at times. He wasn’t incredibly polished. He didn’t seem to be rehearsed, and I think that kind of felt relatable to a lot of people and really to a lot of people, particularly since when he’s Depp and he’s delivering lines on camera, he can deliver lines at 100 words a minute. That’s not who he was on the stand. Also, the fact that he chose to file this lawsuit, that he chose to expose all of his dirty laundry. He chose to have cameras in the courtroom, and so if you’re doing that, you wonder, well, why else would you do that unless you’re telling the truth? I mean, if you really did all these bad things wouldn’t you want to keep this hidden? I think that there’s a part of it where people say, if he’s doing this, he must be telling the truth.
You’ve been in the courtroom — does it seem as pro-Depp as on the internet?
When I show up to the court early in the morning to get my pass to get in there, what I have observed is a majority of Depp supporters. When I go into the courtroom, I will tell you, it is majority women. I am one of the few males in that courtroom.
When Heard was taking the stand and she was testifying, I overheard a lot of people snickering, making side comments, and laughing. I left the courtroom to go to the bathroom and heard them saying, oh, she seems fake — she seems rehearsed.
In fact, I observed one of the court officers going up to a group of Depp supporters in court and telling them to quiet down, to show respect to the witness on the stand.
I will tell you this, I was in court and one of his fans gave his security guard a gift to give to Depp. Now, from what I saw, obviously, they weren’t going to give him the gift, but it just gives you a sign of what’s happening here. There are people waiting at 2 a.m. to get into that courtroom because they want to see Depp.
I know that one Depp supporter brought “emotional support alpacas” – What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen so far?
I interviewed her — that’s up there. Although, she was great. I loved interviewing her. She brought these alpacas to the courthouse.
I interviewed a pro-Heard supporter who believes that Depp and his supporters were engaging in cyber warfare, and she brought some graphics out, which I thought was a little strange.
I think that just the most bizarre aspect of it is how many people are trying to get into that courtroom every day. And one of the things that kind of really troubled me — so I got there early in the morning and I saw a group of young teenage girls wearing full makeup waiting to get into the courtroom by themselves. It just kind of threw me off — it’s a very interesting, eclectic group of people trying to get in there.
Most of the buzz has surrounded Depp and Heard’s testimonies, but how important are the witness testimonies?
Oh, they’re vital. I mean, it is so vital. Even on the days when Depp and Heard are not testifying, the testimony has been electric and important each day.
You’re calling people to the stand who had intimate details of this couple, who were around this couple, who were friends with this couple, and who treated this couple — because there were physicians who testified as well. So if you want to understand exactly what was happening with them, these are the people to ask.
Now, of course, there are going to be questions of credibility and questions of bias. Totally fine. I think that’s an interesting thing to explore. I’ll give you an example. Kate James, Heard’s former assistant, could not say worse things about Heard, but when Heard was on the stand, she said, look, you know, I wasn’t really comfortable with Kate James. She had an alcohol problem herself. So it’s fascinating to see these people who were part of the inner circle.
But nobody ever observed physical abuse. They observed verbal abuse. You know, and that was important because, again, you could consider verbal abuse a form of domestic violence, a form of domestic abuse. And Depp, again, could lose his case if the jury believes that he verbally abused Heard and she felt herself a victim of that. But each witness who has testified has been incredibly fascinating.
Why did Depp’s attorney seem so excited when Heard referenced Kate Moss? Is it possible that she will be asked to testify?
Okay, so the reason that is important, from what I have seen, is it opens the door for them to question Heard about her past relationships. They’re going to try to argue, well, she brought up Kate Moss — that was totally inappropriate — let’s bring up one of her exes. Let’s talk about whether or not Heard abused somebody in the past. I think that’s what they were excited about, because they’re portraying Depp as the victim in this and not the abuser.
Their accusations toward one another seem similar. Both say the other was abusive, while testimonies have indicated they were both jealous of the other’s career and that they both struggled with substance abuse issues.
Heard also accused Depp of throwing a Red Bull can at her, which Depp’s bodyguard had previously claimed Heard did to Depp. Is it common in cases like this one for the allegations to match up like this?
There’s one argument that Heard is making everything up and she’s literally parroting everything Depp says. In fact, there were articles written claiming she’s purposely copying the way Depp dresses — that she’s mirroring what he does. I don’t know. I won’t even get into that. The bigger issue is that this seems to be a very toxic relationship. Even their former marriage counselor testified that there was mutual abuse. So when you have mutual abuse, you have two people who are saying worse things to each other. You have two people in contained environments who maybe are both attacking each other, maybe with similar objects in similar scenarios. You do see that a lot in domestic violence issues in general. And so even if Depp and Heard weren’t celebrities, you would probably see this kind of behavior in other couples. I think that’s what we’re seeing a lot of.
You just said that you did not want to get into this, but what do you make of people accusing Heard of copying the way Depp dresses?
Yeah, I don’t see that. I don’t see that. I’m not really sure where that would go. I don’t think that would work. I will tell you, the one thing that I will address that I haven’t mentioned is, Depp not looking at Heard when she testifies. I want to make something very clear. One, the distance between the witness box and Depp is very close. And so part of me wonders if he was instructed by his attorneys not to stare her down. You’re right there. That could look intimidating, particularly to the jury, who’s also sitting pretty close by.
When Depp was testifying, there was a big distance between him and Heard at her table. So she was watching him the entire time. The other argument is, well, maybe he’s not looking at her because he really is shocked, ashamed, and embarrassed by what she’s saying. He can’t even look at her. You know, I don’t know.
But I will tell you, on Law&Crime, we captured a moment when she was leaving the witness box and he was standing up for a break and they almost bumped into each other. That was really awkward. I mean, that was a pretty tense exchange.
I listen to this trial and I think, wow, these are two people that shared a whole life together, the most intimate moments together. They were married and loved each other. And now they’re separated about 40 feet. They can’t even look at each other. It’s really a shocking thing to see and it’s a surreal thing to see, especially being in the courtroom.
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