Depp is suing Heard for $50 million over a 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post, in which she said she had become a public figure representing domestic abuse. Depp has denied all claims of abuse.
Dawn Hughes, a forensic and clinical psychologist from New York City, said she evaluated Heard over 29 hours, multiple visits and a number of tests, and conducted interviews with her mother and other doctors. Hughes said based on her evaluation, she diagnosed Heard with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by intimate partner violence from Depp.
Hughes added that she disagreed with the findings and methods of Shannon Curry, a psychologist hired by Depp’s side who testified last week; Curry said she did not believe that Heard suffered from PTSD and found she was “exaggerating” her symptoms.
“Ms. Heard’s report of intimate partner violence and the records that I reviewed [are] consistent with what we know in the field about intimate partner violence, characterized by physical violence, psychological aggression, sexual violence, coercive control and surveillance behaviors,” Hughes said, when asked for her expert opinion.
Some tests she gave Heard specifically dealt with domestic violence, Hughes said, and she asked Heard what Depp did to her and what she did to him. “What these tests show was there was a high degree of serious violence perpetrated by Mr. Depp toward Ms. Heard; there was violence more on the mild level perpetrated by Ms. Heard,” Hughes said, adding that there was one “severe” indicator from Heard; she said the actress told her that she once punched Depp when he was “coming after” her sister.
Hughes spent part of her testimony discussing victims of abuse in general and why they don’t leave, and how a victim often feels like they can change their partner. She also spoke about Heard’s childhood, and said the actress was abused by her father, who had violent outbursts. That environment, Hughes said, taught Heard that “she could love someone who hurts her,” and to feel a need to help Depp, whose alcohol and drug use have become a talking point of the trial.
Heard did not deny the fact that she called Depp “horrible” names and insulted his parenting of his children, Hughes said, and she was remorseful of this; Hughes said Heard engaged in “minor forms of violence” such as pushing, shoving and throwing objects. But Hughes said in her opinion, she did not believe Heard was the perpetrator, and that those are common behaviors for women in similar situations. She said Heard described Depp verbally and psychologically abusing her, as well as exercising extreme control, such as calling directors or actors on her film sets and letting them know he had “eyes” everywhere. Hughes added that Heard suffered from anxiety and distress as she tried to navigate her career, because Depp would yell at her if she dressed a certain way, or accused her of cheating on him with co-stars.
According to Heard’s reports, Hughes said, Depp was physically and sexually violent toward her. She said Heard alleged that when Depp was drunk or high, he would throw her on the bed, tear off her nightgown and try to have sex with her. Heard told Hughes that when she and Depp were in Australia, during a fight, he grabbed an alcohol bottle from the bar and penetrated her with it. (A representative at the start of the trial said Heard’s claims of sexual assault were “fictitious.”)
Hughes said that Heard’s PTSD symptoms were made worse after Depp’s attorney called her sexual violence claims a hoax in April 2020. (She’s countersuing Depp for $100 million for defamation because of those comments.)
After the plaintiff’s side rested earlier Tuesday, Heard’s attorney, Benjamin Rottenborn, argued for the case to be dismissed. He said that Depp cannot prove Heard acted with “actual malice,” meaning that she knew what she wrote in the op-ed was false. He added there was “ample evidence” that Depp physically abused Heard; and though that’s in dispute by Heard’s side, he said, Depp’s own experts testified that abuse can come in many forms, from verbal to psychological. He pointed to some recordings that the jury heard of Depp shouting, and photos of messages he wrote in blood with his severed finger.
Depp’s attorney Benjamin Chew argued that Heard was the abuser in the relationship and said that repeated that she had defamed him with the op-ed even if she didn’t name him — under Virginia law, he said, it’s not necessary for the defamatory charge to be in direct terms, and “the implication was clear” that the article it was about Depp. He pointed to the testimony from the general counsel from the American Civil Liberties Union, which drafted the op-ed, who said some members of the organization worried that if they took out all references to Depp, the piece would not be as impactful.
Judge Penney Azcarate ultimately ruled that the case will go on. “If there is a scintilla of evidence that a reasonable juror could weigh, then the matter survives a motion to strike,” she said, adding that there has been enough evidence so far to continue. However, she said, she is waiting to rule on whether the article’s headline can remain part of the case (Heard’s lawyers said she didn’t write it) and whether it constituted “republishing” the headline when Heard tweeted the link to the op-ed.