Ryder Found Guilty on 2 of 3 Counts

AP Special Correspondent

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) – Actress Winona Ryder was convicted Wednesday of stealing $5,500 worth of high-fashion merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue last year.

The jury found the star of “Girl, Interrupted” guilty of felony grand theft and vandalism but cleared her of burglary, a count that required proof of advance intent. The panel reached the verdict after 5 1/2 hours of deliberations over two days.

She faces anywhere from probation to three years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 6.

The two-time Oscar nominee, who marked her 31st birthday in the defendant’s chair, was arrested last Dec. 12 as she left the Beverly Hills store, her arms laden with packages.

Ryder did not testify during the trial, which lasted two weeks.

The prosecution told the jury that Ryder came to Saks with larceny on her mind, bringing shopping bags, a garment bag and scissors to snip security tags off items.

“She came, she stole, she left. End of story,” Deputy District Attorney Ann Rundle said in her closing argument. “Nowhere does it say people steal because they have to. People steal out of greed, envy, spite, because it’s there or for the thrill.”

Jurors were shown videotape of Ryder moving through the store laden with goods, and Saks security workers testified that after she was detained she apologetically told them a director had told her to shoplift to prepare for a movie role.

Her attorney denounced the security guards as liars even before the trial began.

At the start of her shopping trip, she paid more than $3,000 for a jacket and two blouses. The defense said Ryder believed the store would keep her account “open” while she shopped and would charge her later. But there was no evidence of an account.

In closing arguments Monday, defense attorney Mark Geragos suggested that the store, trying to avoid a lawsuit, conspired with employees to invent a story that would make Ryder appear to be a thief and vandal.

Geragos ridiculed the charge that Ryder vandalized merchandise by cutting holes in clothes when removing the security tags.

“This woman is known for her fashion sense,” he said. “Was she going to start a new line of ‘Winona wear’ with holes in it?”

He carried a hair bow that she allegedly had stolen over to her, placed it on her head and said, “Can anyone see Ms. Ryder with this on top of her head? Does that make sense?”

Settlement talks between the defense and prosecution failed, but just before trial the district attorney’s office agreed to dismiss a drug charge after a doctor said he had given her two pills found in her possession when she was arrested.

The 12-member jury included several people with Hollywood connections, including producer Peter Guber, head of Mandalay Entertainment and a former head of Sony Entertainment Pictures.

The town raised a collective eyebrow at the inclusion of Guber, who presided over Sony when three successful Ryder films were made there.

Ryder has made some two-dozen films since 1986, including “Beetlejuice,” “Heathers,” “Mermaids,” “Little Women,” “The Age of Innocence,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Reality Bites” and “Mr. Deeds.”

She received her Academy Award nominations for “Little Women” (best actress) and for “The Age of Innocence” (supporting actress).

Ryder was raised by parents who were part of the counterculture revolution in the 1960s. Her godfather was LSD guru Timothy Leary.

In 1993, Ryder posted a $200,000 reward in the kidnap-murder case of a 12-year-old girl, Polly Klaas, in Petaluma, Calif., where the actress grew up. When Ryder was charged with shoplifting, Polly’s father, Mark, came to legal proceedings to support her.

In recent years, Ryder has been featured frequently in fashion magazines. Her delicate beauty and waiflike persona were on display at the trial along with a wardrobe of appropriate trial clothes — dark sweaters and skirts, soft dresses and, on the climactic day of closing arguments, a cream silk suit with a pleated skirt and short jacket.