Amber Heard may have tried to taint the jury with a rumor about Johnny Depp shoving Kate Moss down the stairs, experts say. It could backfire.

·10 min read
Amber Heard Kate Moss Johnny Depp
Amber Heard, Kate Moss, and Johnny Depp.Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via REUTERS; Taylor Hill/Getty Images; Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via REUTERS
  • Amber Heard referenced Kate Moss in her testimony last week in the trial over Johnny Depp's lawsuit.

  • People close to Depp told Insider it could open the door to new evidence on past relationships.

  • Heard was arrested on a domestic-violence charge in 2009. Her ex-girlfriend said it was overblown.

Before Amber Heard stepped down from the witness stand for a weeklong break from her trial, she described an explosive fight with Johnny Depp that came after she discovered text messages that led her to believe he was being unfaithful.

She mentioned a person few expected to come up in the trial: Kate Moss.

Heard said she "swung at" Depp during a fight because Depp was punching at her sister, Whitney Heard, who Heard said was standing on top of a staircase.

"I don't hesitate. I don't wait. I instantly think of Kate Moss and the stairs, and I swung at him," Heard said.

Heard appeared to be referring to an unverified rumor that Depp once pushed Moss down the stairs when they were dating in the 1990s. Moss has never publicly accused Depp of misconduct and, in interviews, has spoken fondly of him.

While Moss isn't on the list of witnesses Depp said he may call to testify, according to documents reviewed by Insider, he did reserve the right to call "any witnesses identified" by Heard and "any witness necessary for rebuttal or impeachment," court records show.

Johnny Depp Kate Moss
Depp and Moss at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1998.Pool BENAINOUS/DUCLOS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

In any court case, lawyers typically hash out the admissible evidence before the trial begins. Lawyers on each side spend months conducting discovery to search the other party's files and interview witnesses to establish which evidence they can bring into the case, as long as it's verifiable and relevant.

Heard and Depp are facing off in dueling defamation lawsuits over whether one abused the other during their relationship and marriage, which ended in 2016. The motions establishing the precise scope of the evidence were filed under seal, according to a person close to the case whose identity is known to Insider but who spoke on condition of anonymity so they wouldn't affect the trial.

By mentioning the allegation involving Moss — as well as describing injuries Heard said she suffered from an explosive fight — Heard may have inadvertently "opened the door," in legal parlance, for fresh evidence to counter her version of events.

Depp's lawyer Benjamin Chew appeared excited when Heard mentioned Moss.

A person familiar with Depp's thinking told Insider Heard's mention of Moss was likely to come up in cross-examination, which is expected to begin after Heard finishes testifying on Monday. Because Heard made only a passing reference to Moss, it may not reach the standard of relevance to have the supermodel personally testify.

But if Heard expounds on what she thinks about Moss, Depp's lawyers may opt to ask the judge to call Moss to the stand and lay the rumor to rest, this person said.

Johnny Depp and Kate Moss in 1995.
Depp and Moss in 1995.Barry King/WireImage

"The argument that Johnny Depp's team is likely to make is: If this is an unsubstantiated rumor, and now it's before the jury, the jury's going to be wondering whether Johnny did, in fact, do something to Kate Moss," Halim Dhanidina, a former Los Angeles judge, told Insider. "And the best way to rebut that is to have Kate Moss come here and tell the jury how great a guy he is and how he was never violent with her."

Heard's arrest on a domestic-violence charge may enter the case

Depp's lawyers would also "love" to persuade the judge to allow questions regarding Heard's ex-girlfriend Tasya van Ree, the person familiar with Depp's thinking said.

Heard was arrested on a misdemeanor domestic-violence charge at the Seattle airport in 2009 after she was accused of hitting van Ree in the arm during an argument.

The charges were later dropped, and van Ree released a statement to E News in 2016 saying that Heard was "wrongfully accused for an incident that was misinterpreted and over-sensationalized by two individuals in a powerful position."

Tasya van Ree Amber Heard
Heard and Tasya van Ree in June 2011 in New York City.Dario Cantatore/Getty Images

Christa Ramey, a cofounder of the Los Angeles civil-litigation firm Ramey Law PC, told Insider Heard's mention of Moss seemed deliberate and may have gone against her legal team's wishes.

"Sometimes, I've had clients that think they're smarter than me, who sometimes kind of go rogue on the stand. I think she definitely went that route," Ramey said. "Her attorneys did not want her to say that."

Ramey said Heard may have hoped that members of the jury would Google the reference. While jurors are not allowed to consume news about trials they sit on, it happens, Ramey said.

"Every time I start a trial, my Google Analytics and my LinkedIn searches go way up. Jurors Google stuff all the time even though they're not supposed to," Ramey said.

No matter the case, if the judge didn't want unsubstantiated rumors or previous relationships to enter the case, and Heard did it anyway, it would be a huge risk. It means the judge has to weigh what other kind of information may be brought in the case, out of fairness to Depp's side, Dhanidina said.

"If an attorney or a witness decides they want to just run the risk of going against my ruling and hoping that everything will stay the same, then it puts me as a judge in a very difficult position of needing to maintain the integrity and fairness of the trial," Dhanidina, now an attorney at Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP, told Insider.

Depp's past relationships may also come into the case

johnny depp winona ryder
Depp and Winona Ryder in 1990.Barry King/WireImage/Getty Images

Brett Ward, a cochair of the matrimonial- and family-law practice at Blank Rome, said he thought the wording of Heard's name drop was too "skillful" to have happened without the help of her legal team.

By simply saying that she thought of Moss in that moment, instead of repeating the rumor, Heard was able to avoid Depp's legal team objecting to the testimony on hearsay grounds, he said.

But it "may turn out to be a mistake," Ward said, since it opens up the possibility of Depp's legal team calling Moss and other ex-girlfriends to the stand to give glowing reviews of his behavior.

Moss praising Depp isn't a sure thing. She hasn't publicly addressed the staircase allegation. And in a 1998 interview with Rolling Stone, Depp recounted a conversation with Hunter S. Thompson in which he said he may have told the writer his "romance" with Moss involved "beating."

"He zeroes in on faults and good points immediately," Depp told the magazine. "I was with Kate, and I think he went straight for the romance jugular, shit like whether I beat her enough. I probably told him, 'Yeah, she gets a severe beating.'"

Other former partners have gone on the record to say Depp was a good boyfriend.

Depp's ex-girlfriends Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder each wrote statements of support during the actor's libel lawsuit against the UK tabloid The Sun, which had labeled him a "wife beater" in stories about Heard. Depp ended up losing that case, with the judge ruling that Heard's allegations were substantially true.

Paradis, who dated Depp for 14 years and is the mother of his two children, said Depp was "never violent or abusive to me" and that she had always known him to be a "non-violent person."

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Vanessa Paradis with her daughter Lily-Rose Depp in Paris.Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images

"I have seen that these outrageous statements have been really distressing, and also caused damage to his career because unfortunately people have gone on believing these false facts," Paradis wrote.

Ryder wrote that she was "absolutely shocked, confused and upset" to hear about Heard's allegations because Depp was never violent or abusive during their relationship, which spanned four years during the late '80s and early '90s.

"I do not want to call anyone a liar but from my experience of Johnny, it is impossible to believe that such horrific allegations are true," she wrote. "I find it extremely upsetting knowing him as I do."

Usually, character references like this in a trial are off limits, Ward said, because the court recognizes that just because "Depp may have treated an ex-girlfriend well, doesn't mean he didn't abuse one of them."

Depp's team believes they have an 'embarrassment of riches' for cross-examination

Heard may have made similar blunders elsewhere in the case, such as when she described the aftermath of an explosive incident between her and Depp in March 2015.

The two stayed in a house in Australia as Depp filmed the fifth "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie. The night of March 7, Depp testified, Heard threw a glass vodka bottle at him in a rage. It shattered on his hand and sliced off the tip of his right middle finger, Depp said. Heard testified that Depp was high on a cocktail of drugs, lobbed cans and bottles at her, sexually assaulted her with one of the bottles, and cut off the tip of his finger himself.

One of the photos entered into evidence on Thursday showed a guitar with blood smeared on it. Depp, a guitar player, testified he would never cut his own finger off because he loves the instrument too much. Heard, asked if she was responsible for the streaks, said she'd "never played the guitar."

But, as many of Depp's fans pointed out on Twitter, Heard appears to have played the guitar before. She's seen playing one in the 2016 movie "One More Time," in which she plays an aspiring rock star. Her left hand is shown making well-known chord shapes on the instrument as she strums, which suggests she learned them.

Amber Heard.
Heard testifies.JIM LO SCALZO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Depp's lawyers may move to have the movie trailer, or clips of it, entered into evidence, and the judge would have to weigh whether the fact that she's acting in the film meets the appropriate standards of evidence.

Heard also said that during the Australia fight, her feet were "sliced up pretty good" by the broken glass on the floor from the bottles and windows that she said Depp smashed.

While Depp was sent to two hospitals to reattach his finger, Heard didn't seek medical care and didn't appear to have injuries, witnesses whom Depp's lawyers called to the stand said. Heard will have to face that discrepancy in cross-examination.

The person close to Depp's thinking told Insider the guitar and feet issues were among an "embarrassment of riches" that the actor's lawyers may bring up in cross-examination and that could contradict her claims.

In cross-examination of Depp's doctor and each of his employees regarding the incident, though, Heard's attorneys said that none of them were focusing on whether Heard was injured. Their jobs were to protect and care about Depp.

Dhanidina said the judge would have to decide how much outside evidence she'd allow into the case for jurors to decide the truth.

"Most judges would allow at least some contradictory evidence to be admitted if it does impeach something a witness has said, especially a key witness in this case," he said. "It's important to judge their credibility for when the judge instructs the jury about how to decide who to believe."

Read the original article on Insider