Amber Heard’s sister testified on Wednesday afternoon that she watched the actress transformed by her relationship with Johnny Depp as if she’d been struck by “a slow-motion gunshot,” going from blissfully in love to withdrawn and emaciated, and a shell of her old buoyant self under a torrent of drug- and alcohol-fueled abuse by Depp that began even before they got married.
In the 18th day of Depp’s defamation trial against Heard, the actress’ younger sister Whitney Heard Henriquez also became the first witness to say that she saw Depp strike his wife. On cross examination, Henriquez admitted that she did cocaine with Depp often and served as a de facto “marriage counselor” even after the physical violence, and that she had once joked in a text with Depp about him hitting her sister — a comment she said she regretted as she learned the extent of the abuse.
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Heard, off the witness stand for the first time in several days, watched the proceedings inside a packed Virginia courtroom from her chair at her lawyers’ table. As she listened to testimony throughout the morning, she took sips from a to-go coffee cup, and at one point, watching tearful testimony from a friend, reached for a tissue to dab her eyes.
Depp is suing her for $50 million claiming she defamed him without naming him in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed where she described herself as a victim of domestic violence. Heard is countersuing Depp for $100 million. In the trial’s fifth week, the testimony has moved away from Depp and Heard themselves and onto the collection of relatives, friends, and employees in their immediate circle. The seven-member jury also heard today from Heard’s makeup artist — who testified that she helped Heard cover facial bruising — and a couple, later divorced, who lived rent-free down the hall from Depp and Heard in a group of conjoined penthouse apartments in downtown Los Angeles owned by Depp.
Henriquez, who lived gratis in the same apartment complex as a guest of her sister, testified to a violent fight between the Depp and Heard in March of 2015 — just two months after they had married. Depp, Henriquez said, was drunk and in a rage after being confronted by Heard with texts that made her suspect he was cheating. The newlyweds screamed at each other inside one of the suites where the couple lived. “They’re saying horrible things to one another,” said Henriquez.
Amid the argument, Henriquez testified, Depp flung a Red Bull can that struck his personal nurse, Debbie Lloyd, in the back, as the Heard sisters looked on from a mezzanine overlooking the apartment kitchen and living room. Then he raced up the stairwell and, with Henriquez facing away from him, allegedly hit her in the back. “I hear Amber shout, ‘Don’t hit my fucking sister!’ She smacks him — lands one,” Henriquez said.
Depp then grabbed Heard “by the hair with one hand and was whacking her repeatedly in the face with the other,” she testified. Depp’s personal bodyguard, Travis McGivern, who had just run up the stairs, separated Depp and Heard, according to Henriquez. “I then just moved Amber into the next room and I just kept her there all night,” she said.
Henriquez said the relationship between her sister and Depp had begun promisingly. “They were incredibly in love,” she said. “I actually to this day — I’ve never seen my sister fall so madly for somebody.”
“And things were wonderful,” she continued. “They seem to really understand each other and get along well. But very quickly this pattern emerged as their relationship went on that if Johnny was using, there almost always was a fight.”
Depp’s lawyers objected to Henriquez’s choice of words — “using” — but were overruled by the judge, Penny Azcarte.
“If he was using or if he was drinking, there was almost always a fight,” Henriquez said, adding, “He would be sober for a little bit and then almost just as quickly fall off the wagon and start to use or drink and there’d be some big blowout and it seemed to go back and forth pretty frequently.”
Henriquez said her sister began to falter as Depp sought to dictate everything from her clothing to her role choices as an actress to who she socialized with, all hallmarks, experts say, of a coercive-control relationship.
At first, “[Amber] was loud, fun, funny. She laughed a lot. She was just this happy, bright, fun-loving thing and was surrounded by friends,” she testified. The downward spiral “was so slow in hindsight it was like watching a slow-motion gunshot. She suddenly stopped sleeping as much. She wasn’t as funny. She wasn’t as loud. She wasn’t as gregarious as she used to be.
“She was so physically unwell,” she added, “She maybe weighed 100 pounds soaking wet. She was emaciated. She wasn’t sleeping. She had developed a heart condition and her eyes were sunken in.”
Henriquez said the troubles she saw began to surface in 2013, when the sisters still shared an apartment in Orange, California, but she admitted on cross examination that as late as October 2015 she was still advocating for the marriage. Challenged by Depp attorney Rebecca MacDowell Lecaroz, Henriquez said she was trying to accommodate her sister’s wish to keep the relationship intact because when Depp was sober, “things were wonderful.”
“We all thought that he was just going to get better,” Henriquez said. “We all wanted to just see the other side of that.”
The couple that also lived rent-free in Depp’s Los Angeles penthouse complex, jewelry maker Raquel Pennington and chef Josh Drew, described the home life of their landlord and his actress wife — their down-the-hall neighbors, friends, and benefactors — as a whirl of chaos and violence. At Depp’s shared downtown Los Angeles residence and on trips to France, Australia, and the California desert, gatherings of friends and family meant to be celebrations turned ugly because of Depp’s drug- and alcohol-fueled mood swings, according to video depositions taken several months ago from the couple and played back on Wednesday.
The domestic strife culminated on May 21, 2016, with a screaming confrontation at the residence between Depp and Heard that turned so hostile, Pennington said she stepped in between them and draped herself protectively over Heard on a couch as Depp loomed over them, and Pennington eyed a large ceramic ashtray sitting on a coffee table as a weapon. “And I was thinking if he gets any closer, I’m just gonna pick up the ashtray and, like, hit him with it,” Pennington said between sobs.
Two of Depp’s personal security guards showed up to whisk him away, she testified, but Depp left a trail of household damage in his wake, smashing items with a wine bottle and hurling around other objects on his way out of the building. Police made two visits to the residence afterward, and two days later Heard filed for divorce. Soon after, she sought and got a protective restraining order against Depp.
The trial has unfurled a story of domestic violence wrapped in a sheen of celebrity name-dropping. Drew testified that after Heard and Depp separated, he began to see the billionaire inventor Elon Musk coming around to the penthouse to visit Heard.
The divorced couple’s personal histories have tumbled out on the stand in a cascade of lurid details and dueling accounts of awful behavior. It has also spawned a parallel campaign of info war, mostly conducted by Depp fans on Twitter feeds and Reddit forums where Heard is a figure of scorn and mockery and her testimony is gleefully dissected for gaps and inconsistencies. Casual viewers can’t help wondering just how performed the testimony is of either of these two accomplished actors. Live trial feeds on YouTube play alongside scrolling viewer comments dotted with emojis and ALL CAPS partisan slogans (“JUSTICE FOR JOHNNY,” “Amber Heard is going to be HEARD”)
Heard has described herself as a survivor of a violent, manipulative abuser who repeatedly threatened to kill her and, in one horrific account, sexually assaulted her with a bottle. Depp has denied ever striking Heard and testified that the abuse allegations, named or unnamed, are fabrications that have destroyed his life and reputation, and left him unemployable. In testimony he has portrayed himself as a victim of a greedy, vengeful ex capitalizing on the #MeToo movement. Heard and her lawyers have argued that the defamation claim is empty since the allegations of abuse became public two years before the op-ed and were later validated in a British court, where a judge threw out Depp’s slander case against a London tabloid that labeled him a “wife beater,” ruling that he had, in fact, beat her and left her afraid.
Depp sabotaged his career all by himself, they have argued, with his substance abuse and a worsening reputation within the industry for volatile and unprofessional behavior on the job.
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