- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002

From combined dispatches

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. A glum Winona Ryder was convicted yesterday of shoplifting from Saks Fifth Avenue's posh Beverly Hills store after a sensational trial in which prosecutors repeatedly reminded jurors that the rich and famous were not above the law.

A jury of six men and six women convicted Ryder, a 31-year-old Oscar-nominated actress, of slipping out of Saks in December with $5,500 in designer tops, handbags, hair bows and socks stuffed in her shopping bags and hidden on her person.

The jury panel, which included former Sony Pictures studio head Peter Guber and at least two others with Hollywood connections, found her guilty of grand theft and vandalism but not guilty of commercial burglary.

That charge would have required proof that she had gone to the store with intent to steal, legal experts said.

Ryder, who starred in "Girl, Interrupted" and was nominated twice for Oscars, sat wide-eyed and expressionless in the packed courtroom as the verdicts were read, but moments later appeared close to tears. She left the courthouse without speaking to reporters beyond saying, "Thanks for asking. I just can't talk right now."

The prosecutor said she would not try to put the 31-year-old, two-time Academy Award nominee behind bars, saying she would seek probation, community service and restitution at Ryder's sentencing Dec. 6. The charges could have carried up to three years in prison.

"This was never about jail time," Deputy District Attorney Ann Rundle said outside court. "This was never about her character, only her conduct. We were simply asking for Miss Ryder to take responsibility for her conduct."

The verdict was carried live on nationwide television, crowding out coverage of a decision by the U.S. Federal Reserve to cut interest rates to a four-decade low in an attempt to revive the sluggish economy.

Prosecutors said at trial that Ryder walked into the Saks store in December with a pair of scissors and cut sensor tags off handbags worth hundreds of dollars in what amounted to a "simple case of theft."

Ryder's attorney, Mark Geragos, suggested during his closing statement that she was the victim of a frame-up by store employees. Ryder did not testify. Mr. Geragos said afterward he will ask for a new trial.

The court bailiff said jurors did not wish to speak to news media until the sentencing.


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