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Jurors to Begin Weighing Ryder Case

Prosecutor tells panel that actress shoplifted for thrills; defense calls her victim of conspiracy.

November 05, 2002|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

Winona Ryder's shoplifting case went to the jury Monday afternoon, after a prosecutor accused her of stealing for the thrill of it and her defense attorney described the actress as a victim of a conspiracy by Saks Fifth Avenue.

The jurors were ordered to select a foreperson and return this morning to the Beverly Hills courthouse to begin weighing the fate of the Oscar-nominated film star, who did not take the stand to defend herself. Ryder faces a possible three-year prison term if convicted on felony charges of grand theft, burglary and vandalism.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Ann Rundle said during her closing argument that Ryder, 31, had walked into the Beverly Hills department store with burglary tools and walked out with more than $5,500 worth of designer merchandise that she hadn't purchased. Rundle then mentioned one of Ryder's films, "Girl, Interrupted," which opens with her character saying that she likes going into stores and taking items just to see if she can get away with it.

As jurors listened intently, Rundle urged them to convict Ryder, giving a Top 10 list of what the law on shoplifting does not say. Among them: Only poor people steal; crime is OK as long as your director tells you to do it; if you sell $200 hair bows, you deserve to get ripped off.

"It's a simple case of theft," she said. "She came, she stole, she left. End of story."

Rundle detailed Ryder's trip through the high-end boutiques of Saks in December, showing clips of store surveillance videotapes and holding up unpaid-for purses and blouses that Ryder had when she was stopped by security guards outside the store. Some of those blouses had holes where the actress had allegedly cut off security tags. Ryder did not look like a glamorous movie star that day, but rather like a person preparing to shoplift, Rundle said.

The prosecutor accused Ryder of carrying scissors into the store to cut off sensor tags, tissue to wrap merchandise and a garment bag to hide stolen clothing. The actress bought four items as a "ruse" to allow her to steal about 20 more, which she stuffed into bags and under her coat, Rundle said. When Ryder went into dressing rooms, she sent sales associates to get her soda so she could have "all the time in the world to conceal the items in her bag," Rundle said.

Rundle played a portion of videotape that she said showed Ryder taking sensor tags out of her pocket and stuffing them into a jacket in the store's Gucci boutique. Four tags were later found in a Chanel jacket, a security manager has testified.

The prosecutors also showed jurors a poster of Ryder's face with balloon-style captions describing what security guards testified the actress had said to explain her conduct. Guards alternately testified last week that Ryder told them she had taken the items in preparation for a film role or that she said she believed her assistant had paid for them. No assistant was visible in the surveillance tapes played repeatedly at the trial.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos, in his closing argument, accused Saks employees of lying and planting evidence -- including the scissors -- to ensure that Ryder gets convicted and to insulate the department store from civil liability. He said they would say whatever it took to get a conviction.

Geragos suggested that guard Colleen Rainey, who testified that she had seen Ryder cut tags off merchandise, had profited from Ryder's case. Security manager Kenneth Evans, who said he had watched the actress walk out of the store with stolen merchandise, did so only to appease his corporate bosses and to get "15 minutes of fame," Geragos said.

"They've got all the best reasons in the world to fabricate evidence," he said.

Geragos, intimating that Rainey had planted evidence, showed his own snippet of videotape, of the guard holding a red Saks bag and running into the dressing room where Ryder had been.

The testimony of Saks employees and police officers has fluctuated more than the Nasdaq in recent months, the defense attorney added, citing inconsistencies in their testimony and statements. Geragos insisted that there had been no theft, suggesting that Ryder had left her account open after making a purchase. Geragos also accused Beverly Hills police of playing games with the evidence and Saks personnel of purposely taping over another surveillance video. Geragos posed several questions to jurors, which he said showed the reasonable doubt needed to acquit his client: Why hadn't Saks security people audiotaped alleged admissions by Ryder about shoplifting in preparation for a film role? Why hadn't police checked sensor tags allegedly found in the Chanel jacket for fingerprints?

"You can't explain these things away, because there is no explanation," he argued. "Someone is giving you a story."

At one point, Geragos made light of the case, saying that his client is known for her fashion sense and asking if Saks believed she intended to start a line of Winona wear -- blouses with holes in them.

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