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Prosecution Rests Against Ryder; Judge Rebukes Defense Attorney

November 01, 2002|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

The district attorney's office rested its shoplifting case against actress Winona Ryder on Thursday after defense attorney Mark Geragos attacked the motives of a key prosecution witness who testified that Ryder had walked out of Saks Fifth Avenue with more than $5,500 worth of unpaid merchandise.

Geragos accused the former security guard of fabricating statements, embellishing her testimony and selling the story of Ryder's December shopping trip. The accusations, which guard Colleen Rainey denied, drew strong rebukes from Superior Court Judge Elden S. Fox, who threatened to hold Geragos in contempt and warned him to watch his behavior.

In all, the prosecution called six witnesses during four days of testimony, concluding with a Beverly Hills police detective who testified that he had heard Ryder say she was trying to get into the character of a kleptomaniac for a film role. The officer was the third witness to mention Ryder's giving such an explanation for her behavior. Geragos and Ryder's publicist have suggested that the witnesses twisted a conversation Ryder had about possible projects.

Geragos plans to present his case beginning today and the jury could start deliberations early next week. Ryder, 31, accused of stealing more than $5,500 in designer merchandise on Dec. 12, is charged with felony grand theft, burglary and vandalism and could face three years in state prison if convicted.

Rainey testified Wednesday that she had peered through slats in a dressing room door and seen the actress tending to a bleeding finger and using scissors to cut sensor tags from merchandise. Under questioning from Geragos, she acknowledged Thursday that she had not included that observation in written statements dated Dec. 12 and 13. Rainey said she didn't have any explanation for the omissions, except that she was trying to be brief.

Rainey also said she had not actually seen Ryder cut her finger, prompting Geragos to accuse her of making up the story.

Geragos also questioned Rainey about her ability to see through the slats at just the precise angle necessary to see Ryder cutting tags. Rainey testified that she had not told a nearby sales associate what she had seen.

Rainey told jurors that she and her husband, who writes screenplays, started a writing and business services company two weeks after charges were filed against Ryder and that they had received deposits totaling $50,000 over the next several months. Her husband bought a new Ford Expedition after the business was started, she said.

Geragos asked whether Rainey had sold her story and profited from Ryder's case, but she insisted that her husband had received the money from his work as a financial consultant. She said she has never given interviews to tabloid newspapers or entertainment shows.

At one point, Geragos asked her to look at financial documents very carefully. "I don't want you to commit any further act of perjury," he said.

The prosecutor quickly objected and Fox then warned Geragos that he would be held in contempt if he made such statements again. Fox reprimanded Geragos a second time after Geragos asked Beverly Hills Det. Mark Parker why he was lying.

The detective, a 20-year veteran, testified that when he got to Saks, Ryder appeared calm and was smiling. But as Parker read Rainey's written report, he said, Ryder became nervous and asked what would happen. Parker testified that he then asked Ryder if she had any weapons and she responded that she had scissors. Under cross-examination, Parker said he couldn't remember whether Ryder had given him the scissors or whether Rainey had reached into Ryder's pocket to retrieve them.

Saks security guard Ernest Amaya testified Thursday that when he approached Ryder, who was carrying bags of merchandise outside the store, the actress apologized and said she thought her assistant had paid. A 90-minute surveillance tape screened earlier this week for jurors showed no assistant with Ryder inside Saks.

Amaya also said Ryder had been cooperative and pleasant. When asked if she had any more Saks merchandise, Ryder lifted her shirt slightly and said no, Amaya testified. Geragos had accused guards in his opening statement of having lifted Ryder's shirt in the detention room.

Fox also ruled after a brief hearing Thursday that Ryder's right to a fair trial outweighed the public's right of access to certain motions and transcripts in the case. The hearing was held at the direction of a state appellate court, which determined this week that Fox had erred in denying access to the media without making adequate legal findings.

"The pervasive nature of the media coverage creates a substantial probability that the interests of the accused in a fair trial will be prejudiced if the records are disclosed," Fox read from his ruling.

Fox called the case unique and said he would not release transcripts of closed proceedings about Ryder's alleged prior acts during the trial. He said he would review and release transcripts of hearings on two other motions, dealing with the search for the scissors and statements Ryder allegedly made.

The judge also declined to release completed jury questionnaires until the trial is over

Al Wickers, an attorney representing The Times, said that he does not believe Fox properly applied the law and that there is no evidence to support his ruling that secrecy is required. Wickers said The Times, which filed legal action in appellate court with the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Daily Journal, is considering a further challenge.

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