Johnny Depp may take the stand for a second time in the defamation trial pitting him against his ex-wife Amber Heard when proceedings resume next week. But two other expected witnesses may prove just as crucial in deciding a case centering on disturbing allegations of domestic violence and an op-ed Depp says ruined his career.
A source close to the actress told The Daily Beast that Depp and actress Ellen Barkin are among the witnesses to be summoned by Heard’s legal team in Fairfax County Court. Heard’s sister, Whitney Henriquez, is also set to take the stand sometime after the Aquaman actress finishes her own testimony, which may reach the cross-examination phase on Monday, the source said.
Legions of Depp fanatics have used social-media blasts to attempt to poke holes in Heard’s account already, a process that will surely intensify when Depp’s lawyers begin to grill her. But close observers of the trial suspect that at least one of the less-familiar witnesses may prove crucial to the actress, proving she was in fact a victim.
Barkin, who dated Depp in the 1990s, has previously alleged the actor threw a wine bottle at her, and will appear in court via video.
“Ellen’s testimony will be critical to Heard’s [case],” former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told The Daily Beast, adding that Heard “needs independent witnesses to corroborate her story.”
The trial is intended to resolve a $50 million defamation lawsuit Depp filed against Heard that claims she “devastated” his career with a 2018 Washington Post op-ed. In the piece, which did not mention Depp’s name but came two years after she sought a restraining order against him, Heard identified herself as a domestic violence survivor. Heard has since countersued Depp for $100 million, claiming defamation after at least one of his ex-attorneys suggested her account was a “hoax.”
Depp’s team has portrayed Heard as a physically and verbally abusive liar essentially exploiting the MeToo movement. Heard’s team began to tell her story last week, painting a terrifying picture of serial, drug-fueled domestic violence by Depp.
If and when Depp is called by Heard’s team, it will mark his second round on the stand after testifying for days about his tumultuous relationship with the actress that officially ended in 2017. On the stand, he told jurors he was using the trial to speak out against “heinous and disturbing” allegations that he abused Heard, and walked the panel through detailed claims of abuse on her part, including a notorious incident in which he claimed the actress threw a vodka bottle that severed his fingertip. (Audio played at trial appeared to capture him suggesting he severed it himself.)
Heard’s initial testimony argued the opposite: that it was Depp who was the abuser in their relationship after the duo met on the set of the 2011 film The Rum Diary and were married in 2015. Heard’s painful testimony described several instances of physical and verbal abuse, including one harrowing 2015 incident in Australia where Depp allegedly penetrated her vagina repeatedly with a liquor bottle that ultimately left her vomiting.
“I thought he was punching me, I felt this pressure on my pubic bone…I remember looking around the room,” Heard said on the stand last week. “I remember looking at all the broken bottles, broken glass, and I remember just not wanting to move because I didn’t know if it was broken or if the bottle he had inside of me was broken. I couldn’t feel it, I didn’t feel pain, I didn’t feel anything... I just remember thinking, ‘Please God, please I hope it’s not broken.’”
While Depp and his legal team have gone to great lengths to suggest Heard was an abusive manipulator who canceled an innocent man, Barkin’s testimony may dent that argument.
“Depp had LAPD officers and security in their building testify there was no abuse. And he will try to call Heard’s exes in rebuttal to show she was violent and abusive,” Rahmani said. “Heard needs to counter this narrative and bring Ellen to tell the jury that Heard wasn’t the only victim of Depp’s domestic violence. Heard’s sister won’t cut it.”
Barkin, something of a celebrity in her own right, dated Depp on the set of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in the late 1990s. She previously testified in Depp’s failed U.K. defamation case, in which she said the actor once threw a wine bottle in her direction. In November 2020, a London judge found that there was “overwhelming evidence” that Depp had assaulted Heard repeatedly throughout their marriage, and she was “in fear of her life.”
That the Animal Kingdom actress is set to testify is not shocking given she was placed on Heard’s witness list in March—which also included Depp and Henriquez. But that list also included other A-list stars like Elon Musk and James Franco, and at this point, it is not clear if either of the men will take the stand.
“Ellen Barkin’s star power might now be what Amber Heard’s team are counting on, [but] coming in via video is not going to be as impactful as if she were sitting on the stand in front of them,” Juda Engelmayer, a crisis communications expert who was the spokesperson for Harvey Weinstein during his New York sex-crimes trial, told The Daily Beast.
Henriquez, Heard’s sister, once lived in one of Depp’s Los Angeles penthouses. Several Los Angeles Police officers previously testified that they were called to the same collection of penthouses in 2016 on a domestic violence call, but found no evidence of a crime. But Henriquez also testified in Depp’s U.K. trial, telling the judge she began to see bruising on her sister’s face early into the couple’s relationship.
Heard’s sister has also been mentioned several times in the ongoing trial, including by Depp’s team, who claimed that Henriquez and Heard re-enacted a “fake punch” to sort of practice faking abuse by Depp.
“Whitney Henriquez’s testimony in person, Amber Heard’s sister, could be impactful. A sister’s bond is strong, her emotional state and what she might say about what she saw personally or what was conveyed to her by her sister as events happened will be powerful,” Engelmayer said.
Criminal defense attorney and former California judge Halim Dhanidina told The Daily Beast that everything about this case so far has been a “PR battle”—including how both Depp and Heard have recounted their relationship on the stand. That said, jurors are specifically asked to decide whether Heard acted with “actual malice” when she wrote the Post piece—meaning she knew the contents were false—or that the actress published the piece with “reckless disregard” for the truth.
“Almost everything can blow up in your face,” Dhanidina told The Daily Beast. “A lot of that has to do with personality. This is always the case with celebrities.”
The former judge added that while Depp’s online fanatics seem to insist that the Pirates the Caribbean star has been winning this trial, that does not necessarily mean Heard’s team does not have a shot at success. Especially since both Depp and Heard’s legal teams this week got a rare “timeout” to reevaluate their strategies.
“Jurors can’t decide on who they like more. They are going to be confronted with legal terms, like who has the burden of proof,” Dhanidina added. “How something lands on the internet is not necessarily how it landed to the jury in the courtroom.”