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Unanimity on Ryder Verdict Was Quick

Juror says grand theft, vandalism conviction was swift but burglary acquittal took longer.

November 08, 2002|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

Jurors who convicted actress Winona Ryder on Wednesday reached a unanimous verdict on felony grand theft and vandalism charges after quickly deciding that the shoplifting case was open and shut, according to a member of the jury.

"They caught her outside the door with the merchandise and some of it was vandalized," said juror Walter Fox, a Beverly Hills obstetrician-gynecologist.

Fox, who spoke to The Times the day after the verdicts were announced, said the most compelling witness was Saks Fifth Avenue security guard Colleen Rainey, who testified that she stopped Ryder after the Oscar-nominated film star left the department store in December with $5,560 of merchandise that she hadn't paid for.

Several other jurors, including Hollywood producer Peter Guber, have refused to comment on the case.

As they deliberated for five hours Tuesday, the jurors decided it was not necessary to review two store surveillance tapes that tracked Ryder's movements through Saks.

"While they were helpful, they were not critical," Fox said. "The only thing that was important was the end result."

The jurors decided that Ryder looked suspicious on the video when she stuffed socks and accessories into a hat and when she selected clothes and put them beneath a garment bag draped over her arm. Several also raised questions about why Ryder went into dressing rooms but never tried anything on.

Fox, 74, said that he and his fellow jurors were not overcome by Ryder's celebrity status, but that they were entertained by her facial expressions as she watched herself on the tapes.

"She made wonderfully dramatic faces," Fox said. "She looked shocked. She sees herself walking out the door with all this junk and she's shocked? Gimme a break."

Ryder was convicted of the felony charges on Wednesday after a weeklong trial in Beverly Hills. She was acquitted of a burglary charge. Ryder, who has no prior convictions, could face a three-year prison term, but prosecutors said they don't plan to ask for time behind bars.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Ann Rundle argued to jurors that Ryder went into Saks equipped to shoplift, with scissors to cut sensor tags and bags to conceal the merchandise. But defense attorney Mark Geragos insisted that Ryder was set up by Saks employees and that she didn't steal anything. She purchased $3,700 in merchandise the same day she was arrested.

Fox said the jurors got along well during the weeklong trial and decided on the grand theft and vandalism charges within hours of beginning deliberations. They took about five straw votes in total on the three charges. The first vote was not unanimous on any of the charges, Fox said. But after some discussion, they all agreed that Ryder was guilty of vandalism and grand theft.

But the burglary charge was harder to decide because of a provision that intent to steal was necessary to prove guilt. On Tuesday afternoon, the jurors had voted 11-1 in favor of acquitting the actress on that charge. But not wanting to pressure the 12th juror into a decision, they decided to break for the day. They resumed deliberations at 10:10 Wednesday morning, took one last vote and it was unanimous for acquittal on the burglary charge.

"We could not peer into [Ryder's] mind to know what her intent was when she entered the store," Fox said.

He said Geragos had an uphill battle. "He attempted to obfuscate what we all knew by attacking the witnesses," he said.

But the jurors were sophisticated and couldn't be tricked, he added. "This was not a group of idiots."

Fox said jurors did not believe testimony of the main defense witness, Michael Shoar, who said that a Saks security manager told him he was going to make up evidence to ensure Ryder's conviction.

Shoar, a former Saks employee, admitted during cross-examination that he was suing the department store and had staged a protest in front of the Beverly Hills branch.

The highlight of the trial, said first-time juror Fox, was when he and his fellow jurors walked into the packed courtroom with the verdicts in hand and there was complete silence, as everyone waited to hear the outcome.

Nevertheless, Fox said that he thought too much was made about the case and that he was surprised by the media requests he had received to talk about it.

"There is a definite dearth of news if people want to talk to me," he said.

He said the case should have been resolved without a jury trial. "I do believe that this was much ado about nothing," he said. "Nevertheless, justice is justice."

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