By Emily Yahr and Paul Schwartzman
The first mood on Wednesday afternoon at the Fairfax County Courthouse was confusion. Johnny Depp won, right? But Amber Heard received damages, too?
A group of Depp fans quietly walked out of the courtroom, talking among themselves – a judge had warned the crowd about outbursts when the verdict was read – while journalists and other curious onlookers tried to figure out what it all meant.
The verdict, as painstakingly explained by lawyers and experts to a captive audience in the hallway, was mostly in Depp’s favour: the seven-person jury found that Heard, 36, defamed ex-husband Depp, 58, with a 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post, in which she referred to herself as a public figure representing domestic abuse, and awarded him $15 million in damages.
Simultaneously, the jury found that Depp – via his attorney, Adam Waldman – defamed Heard in one of three statements, calling her accusations a hoax, and awarded her $2 million.
Heard left the courtroom with her sister, Whitney Henriquez, who had testified on the actress’s behalf during the trial. Outside, Heard was greeted by the reaction she has garnered from the beginning of the six-week trial, as many Depp supporters have made it clear they don't believe her.
“Liar! Liar!” shouted Diane Yetman, 57, of Fairfax, who positioned herself in a spot where she could “voice my opinion”, saying that Heard “did harm to all the people who are true victims of domestic violence”.
As Heard left the courthouse in a black pickup truck, a television reporter shouted: “The jury didn’t believe you, what’s your reaction?” The vehicle kept moving, its black-tinted passenger window rolled up.
The second mood was elation. For weeks, Depp’s fervent fan base has shown up, sleeping outside on the pavement so they could be one of the 100 people allowed a seat in the courtroom.
On Wednesday, they gathered in smaller numbers than usual – many went home after closing arguments on Friday – but they were still a couple hundred strong in the 33-degree heat, waiting outside to give a hero’s welcome to Depp’s legal team.
The actor himself was not there; he left Fairfax last week and flew to England, where he has been seen playing guitar in concerts with Jeff Beck.
“Words can't describe how happy I am,” said Sofia Cadena, 24, of Tysons, Virginia, who would wait outside the courthouse for Depp’s car when he arrived at the courthouse in the morning and when he left in the afternoon. “My heart stopped when I heard that he won the case.”
The fans (a few dressed in pirate garb) cheered wildly, made videos and posed for selfies, as Depp lawyers Ben Chew and Camille Vasquez arrived for brief statements. There were shouts of “Johnny for President!” and “Johnny – 2024!” as security helped the legal team navigate the crowd and reach their black SUV.
Sarah Proctor, 33, of Fairfax, is a Depp fan and had her confetti cannon ready but quickly decided not to use it after she asked a sheriff’s deputy if it would be okay – and got stern words in return.
“I was really happy to hear he was awarded as much money as he was,” Proctor said. “I was really happy to hear that the jury found that certain things in the storyline from Ms Heard were not accurate.”
Sandy Riley, leaning on her cane, took in the scene as she has since the trial began. “We’re so proud of Fairfax County,” she said, standing alongside her husband, Phil, 80. “I told the man from the BBC that George Washington’s will is kept 200 feet from here. We know how to do things right. This wasn’t a circus. It was a trial.”
“A fair trial,” her husband said.
Sandy Riley acknowledged that she was on Depp’s side. “Don't judge me,” she said. “That man has the most genuine smile. My Johnny. We’re used to politicians with their empty waves and empty smiles. But this man was looking into peoples’ eyes and their hearts.”
The third mood at the courthouse, though you had to look to find it, was dismay. Heard’s supporters have grimly watched as public opinion swung overwhelmingly in Depp’s favour on the internet, with an enormous number of anti-Heard TikToks, Instagram posts and tweets going viral every day.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” said Sydni Porter, 30, of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Reporters lined up to talk to her, the only Heard fan they could find at the courthouse.
She was holding a banner that said: “We Stand With Amber Heard”, with supportive messages written out from some of her online supporters. Her phone started glitching and she didn’t catch the verdict at first, but when she heard loud cheers outside, she knew what it meant.
While Heard has seen animosity online since 2016 when she filed for a divorce and a restraining order against Depp (and after the actor’s 2020 libel lawsuit in the UK against the British tabloid the Sun for calling him a “wife beater”, which he lost), her defenders have been taken aback by the level of mockery towards her allegations of abuse.
Her supporters have been attacked online by Depp fans when they try to defend her.
“I'm a little confused, because I feel like it’s very obvious who suffered more in terms of the allegations people made,” Porter said, adding that she thinks it was a mistake to livestream the trial and not sequester the jury. She hasn’t had a chance to talk to the other Heard supporters she knows, but just glanced online.
“I looked at Twitter and saw how disappointed everyone is,” Porter said. “I'm hoping that maybe she’ll appeal.”