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Amber Heard settles defamation case against Johnny Depp

Heard settled months after a weekslong televised trial culminated with jurors’ finding she had defamed Depp by writing a 2018 op-ed for The Washington Post.
Image: Amber Heard and Johnny Depp
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp.NBC News / AP Pool

Amber Heard has settled her defamation case against ex-husband Johnny Depp, she announced Monday on Instagram.

Heard, 36, called the decision to settle with Depp, 59, "very difficult," adding that it followed "a great deal of deliberation."

“It’s important for me to say that I never chose this. I defended my truth and in doing so my life as I knew it was destroyed. The vilification I have faced on social media is an amplified version of the ways in which women are re-victimised when they come forward,” Heard wrote.

Heard framed the settlement as a last resort, characterizing it as "an opportunity to emancipate myself from something I attempted to leave over six years ago and on terms I can agree to."

"I have made no admission. This is not an act of concession. There are no restrictions or gags with respect to my voice moving forward," she added.

Depp's attorneys said in a statement that Heard is paying Depp $1 million as part of the settlement.

The attorneys added that they are "pleased to formally close the door on this painful chapter for Mr. Depp, who made clear throughout this process his intent to bring the truth to light."

"This was never about the money," the statement continued. "The jury’s unanimous decision and the judgment in his favor against Ms. Heard remain fully in place, and the payment of $1M reinforces her acknowledgment of the legal system’s rigorous pursuit for justice."

A source close to Depp said the judgment against Heard can still be used against her if she were to make false or defamatory allegations in the future, contrary to what she wrote in her statement.

The source added that Depp will pledge the payment from Heard to several charities that will be named later.

NBC News has asked Heard's legal team and representatives for comment.

Settlement follows a contentious, weekslong trial

Heard settled months after a weekslong televised trial culminated with jurors’ finding that she had defamed Depp by writing in a 2018 op-ed for The Washington Post that she had become a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Although the essay never mentioned Depp by name, his attorneys said it indirectly referred to allegations she made against him during their 2016 divorce.

During the trial, she testified in graphic terms about a sexual assault she alleged, as well as allegations of incidents of physical abuse. Depp denied all allegations of abuse.

Social media posts during the trial overwhelmingly appeared to favor Depp. Support for Heard was harder to find, with memes and viral content disparaging her abounding online. Some online creators said the dynamics in the online response to the trial were toxic for domestic abuse survivors.

Last month, major national feminist organizations came to Heard’s defense, alleging in a letter, first reported by NBC News, that the vilification and harassment of Heard and her supporters were “unprecedented in both vitriol and scale,” marking one of the biggest public shows of support for Heard after the verdict.

The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages; Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages but nothing in punitive damages.

Heard appealed the verdict, leading to the settlement.

The jury’s decision was a legal vindication for Depp, who lost a libel case in the United Kingdom two years ago over claims that he had physically abused Heard. Justice Andrew Nicol ruled against Depp in 2020, saying a British tabloid had presented substantial evidence to show that Depp was violent against Heard on at least 12 of 14 occasions.

‘Lost faith in the American legal system’

In her statement, Heard drew a contrast between how the court battles played out in the U.K. and the U.S., writing that she has "lost faith in the American legal system, where my unprotected testimony served as entertainment and social media fodder.”

Heard wrote that in the U.K., she "was vindicated by a robust, impartial and fair system, where I was protected from having to give the worst moments of my testimony in front of the world's media, and where the court found that I was subjected to domestic and sexual violence."

In the U.S., however, "I exhausted almost all my resources in advance of and during a trial in which I was subject to a courtroom in which abundant, direct evidence that corroborated my testimony was excluded and in which popularity and power mattered more than reason and due process," she said. "In the interim I was exposed to a type of humiliation that I simply cannot re-live."

Heard said settling the case will allow her to spend her time "productively and purposefully."

"For too many years I have been caged in an arduous and expensive legal process, which has shown itself unable to protect me and my right to free speech. I cannot afford to risk an impossible bill — one that is not just financial but also psychological, physical and emotional," she wrote. "Women shouldn’t have to face abuse or bankruptcy for speaking her truth, but unfortunately it is not uncommon."

Heard signed off on her statement by thanking her supporters and her lawyers for their work on the case, and she vowed she "will not be threatened, disheartened, or dissuaded by what happened from speaking the truth."

"No one can and no one will take that from me," she wrote. "My voice forever remains the most valuable asset I have."