Amber Heard suffered from PTSD due to Johnny Depp’s abuse, psychologist says

A psychologist told jurors on Tuesday that Amber Heard suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of ex-husband Johnny Depp.

Dr. Dawn Hughes testified that she had diagnosed Heard after examining her for 29 hours and reviewing therapy records, and that she had concluded Depp engaged in a “high degree of violence.” Hughes recounted numerous instances of alleged sexual violence, which she said were motivated by Depp’s “obsessive jealousy” and a desire to show dominance.

Hughes was the first witness called by Heard’s lawyers, as they began their defence in a US$50 million (approx. $70 million) defamation trial in Fairfax, Virginia. They are seeking to counter the image presented by Depp’s lawyers, who portrayed Heard as the abuser in their relationship, and maintained that Depp would retreat whenever she instigated fights.

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Amber Heard

“He threw her on bed, ripped off her nightgown, and tried to have sex with her,” Hughes testified.

Hughes also referenced incidents in which Depp allegedly penetrated Heard with his fingers and, on one occasion, with a bottle. She said that Depp showed particular jealousy regarding James Franco, with whom he believed Heard was having a relationship.

“These incidents often happened in a drug-fueled rage,” she said.

Dr. Dawn Hughes

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Heard is expected to give a fuller account of the alleged abuse when she takes the witness stand on Wednesday.

Hughes was called to rebut the testimony of Shannon Curry, a psychologist called by Depp’s team last week, who told the jury that Heard suffered from borderline personality disorder. Curry examined Heard for 12 hours on Depp’s behalf, and testified that Heard was prone to give “overly dramatic” statements and was “full of rage.”

Hughes said she disagreed with Curry’s diagnosis. She said that in her examination, Heard’s symptoms were consistent with a victim of intimate partner violence. Hughes also noted that Heard had suffered from parental abuse as a child, and carried over some of those dynamics in her relationship with Depp.

Johnny Depp

“She also believed she could fix him, just like she tried to fix her father,” Hughes said. “She truly believed she could fix Mr. Depp and rid him of his substance abuse problems, but that did not work.”

Hughes also testified that Depp exerted “coercive control” over Heard, and was focused on controlling her career.

“‘Ambition’ was a weaponised term in that relationship,” Hughes said.

Amber Heard

Curry also testified that Heard suffered from histrionic personality disorder, which she said was marked by “drama and shallowness,” and “extreme discomfort with not being the centre of attention.” Curry also stated that Heard did not suffer from PTSD.

Depp’s side presented testimony from a couples therapist, Laurel Anderson, who said that they engaged in “mutual abuse.” Hughes argued that while both parties may engage in verbal or physical abuse, it’s also important to look at the balance of power in the relationship.

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“What the research talks about very clearly is you have to examine context,” Hughes said. “You have to examine the differential of power and control – and coercive control – in the relationship to make a full determination.”

In a pre-trial motion, Heard’s lawyers sought to have an independent mental examination of Depp. Depp’s attorneys opposed that motion, arguing that Depp’s mental state is not at issue. The judge denied the motion.

Actor Johnny Depp arrives in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Va., Tuesday May 3, 2022.

Depp is suing Heard, his ex-wife, alleging that a 2018 op-ed she penned defamed him and caused him to lose work in Hollywood, including his role in the sixth Pirates of the Caribbean film.

Jurors have heard from more than two dozen witnesses called by Depp’s lawyers including Depp himself. Many testified about explosive fights between the two.

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Actor Amber Heard arrives in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Va., Tuesday May 3, 2022.

Minutes after Depp’s legal team rested its case, Heard’s attorneys presented a motion to strike the entire case, arguing that Depp’s lawyers had failed to present enough evidence to prove their defamation case. The motion to strike is a common tactic, and asked the judge to make a summary judgment.

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Judge Penny Azcarate partially denied the motion based on two arguments, but said she would continue to consider one other argument if evidence is presented relating to it when Heard’s team presents its case.

Heard’s legal team is expected to begin presenting its case after a lunch break with testimony from psychologist Dawn Hughes.

Actor Johnny Depp arrives in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Va., Tuesday May 3, 2022. US actor Johnny Depp speaks to his attorney Ben Chew in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia, on May 3, 2022.

Hughes previously testified as an expert in abusive relationships in the trials of Nxivm founder Keith Raniere and singer R. Kelly, helping secure both of their convictions.

Depp’s final witness, forensic accountant Mike Spindler, testified Tuesday about his analysis of the earnings Depp lost as a result of the 2018 op-ed, which did not mention the actor by name.

“I concluded that Mr. Depp suffered lost earnings of approximately US$40 million [approx. $56.4 million],” Spindler testified.

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