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Friends, Family Of Johnny Depp Testify At Libel, Defamation Trial With Amber Heard

Johnny Depp's lawyers began their case for libel against Amber Heard in Virginia with testimony from Depp's sister and a long-time friend.

By The Associated Press
Amber Heard Johnny Depp Getty

A longtime friend and next-door neighbor of Johnny Depp testified Wednesday that Depp’s ex-wife, Amber Heard, had told him the movie star threw a phone at her and hit her inside the couple’s Los Angeles penthouse.

But Isaac Baruch said he never noticed any evidence of abuse on Heard’s face, both when he first saw her in the hallway or the next day in the sunlit lobby of their art deco-style building.

“She's got her face out like this to show me, and I’m looking, and I inspect her face,” Baruch said of the encounter in May 2016. “And I don't see anything. ... I don't see a cut, a bruise, swelling, redness.”

Baruch is the second witness called in the trial over Depp's allegations that Heard falsely portrayed him as a domestic abuser. Depp says that an opinion piece Heard wrote for The Washington Post in 2018 indirectly defamed him.

Heard refers to herself in the article as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” It doesn't name Depp. But his attorneys argue that it clearly referenced a restraining order that Heard sought in May 2016, right after Depp told her he wanted a divorce.

Depp denies abusing Heard.

Baruch, a painter, has been friends with Depp since 1980. He also worked at the Viper Room when the "Pirates of the Caribbean" actor partly owned the famed Los Angeles club. Baruch said Depp has financially supported him, providing him with places to live and giving him about $100,000 over the years.

Baruch testified that he noticed no makeup on Heard's face when she said Depp hit her. But during cross-examination, Baruch conceded he didn't know if Heard — who worked with cosmetics giant L’Oreal — had applied any concealer, foundation, powder or tint.

At one point, Baruch got emotional, stating that Heard needs to “take responsibility and move on.”

He said he never saw violence from Depp.

“His family has been completely wrecked by all of this stuff, and it's not fair,” Baruch said. “It’s not right, what she did. ... It’s insane.”

Baruch also testified that he saw security video showing Heard's sister Whitney throwing a fake punch at Heard’s face while the two waited for an elevator in the building where he and Depp and Heard lived.

“And then they start laughing,” Baruch said.

Depp’s attorneys argue that the sisters were practicing for a real punch to to feign abuse from Depp.

But Heard’s lawyers have said the evidence will show that Depp physically and sexually assaulted Heard on multiple occasions. And they've argued that Depp's denials lack credibility because he frequently drank and used drugs to the point of blacking out and failing to remember anything he did.

The first witness called for the trial was Depp’s older sister, Christi Dembrowski, who faced a barrage of questions from Heard’s lawyers about Depp’s alcohol and drug use.

When she took the stand Tuesday, Dembrowski said she and her brother endured a difficult childhood in which Depp learned to hide from an abusive mother. Dembrowski, who also worked as Depp's personal manager, said she saw the same pattern in Depp’s relationship with Heard, adding that she would book an extra hotel room for Depp if Heard started a fight.

But Dembrowski struggled on cross-examination when asked why she sent texts to Depp in February 2014 that said, “Stop drinking. Stop coke. Stop pills.”

Heard's lawyers asked similar questions Wednesday, zeroing in on a text exchange between Heard and Dembrowski in February 2014.

“Ms. Heard says, ‘JD is on a bender,’ and your response is, ‘Where are the kids?’ — correct?” J. Benjamin Rottenborn asked.

Dembrowski said that was correct. She also confirmed a 2014 email exchange she had with a doctor who treated Depp’s addiction to pain medication.

“You believe that your brother needed help with drugs and alcohol?” Rottenborn asked.

Dembrowski responded that she was concerned about Depp's use of one medication but didn't believe that he had a problem with drugs or alcohol overall, or that he romanticized drug culture.

Both Depp and Heard are expected to testify at the trial in Fairfax County Circuit Court, scheduled for six weeks, along with actors Paul Bettany and James Franco and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Heard’s lawyers had sought to have the case tried in California, where the actors reside. But a judge ruled that Depp was within his rights to bring the case in Virginia because The Washington Post’s computer servers for its online edition are located in the county. Depp’s lawyers have said they brought the case in Virginia in part because the laws here are more favorable to their case.

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