For her 31st birthday, on Oct. 29, Winona Ryder settled in to watch herself in an old video. Unfortunately, the video was produced not by a Hollywood studio but by Saks Fifth Avenue security cameras—and Ryder wasn’t celebrating. As the actress periodically rolled her eyes, prosecutors at her felony shoplifting trial showed jurors a tape of a bag-laden Ryder journeying through the Beverly Hills store last Dec. 12. “Ms. Ryder had in mind sort of her own little two-for-one bonus program,” Deputy District Attorney Ann Rundle said the previous day. “For everything she purchased, she helped herself to a little something extra….That is stealing.”
Of course, Ryder—who has pleaded not guilty to charges of grand theft, burglary and vandalism—begs to differ. “With the air-conditioning in Los Angeles superior court Judge Elden Fox’s courtroom on the blink during opening arguments Oct. 28, the war of words quickly heated up. “This is not a case that is anything more than some security guards that got out of control,” Ryder’s lawyer Mark Geragos said. He argued that the only evidence that she stole 20 items worth $5,560.40 would come from the testimony of overzealous Saks staffers, one of whom, he claimed, tried to lift up her shirt while interrogating her, eliciting a scream from the braless star.
That’s when the prosecution went to the videotape. As its first witness, Saks security manager Ken Evans, narrated, the 90-minute recording showed Ryder juggling a tote bag, garment bag and several purses, with a hat—price tag still attached—perched on her head. After she emerged from a dressing room, one bag appeared fuller. She paid for $3,000 worth of items. When she left the store, Evans and two other guards confronted her. “She took hold of my hand and said, ‘I apologize for what I did,'” Evans said. “‘My director directed me to shoplift in preparation for a role I would be having.'” (Ryder has announced no such role.) Her lawyer insisted that she would have said no such thing; as cross-examination began, he argued that she had expected staffers to have charged her Saks credit card for the goods.
Evans also accused Ryder—whose parents, Cindy and Michael Horowitz, sat in the courtroom’s spectator section—of making like Edward Scissor-hands, snipping antitheft sensors from several items. He displayed two designer tops with holes near the hem where the tag would be. He also showed off four security tags that he said he found stashed after Ryder’s arrest in the pocket of a jacket on the racks. The scraps of fabric clinging to them matched holes in two handbags and a hair bow among the loot, he said.
As Rundle and Geragos dissected stills from the video, many members of the jury (which includes former Sony Entertainment Pictures chief Peter Guber, whose studio oversaw some of Ryder’s movies) yawned. “I hate to break this up,” Fox said sarcastically at day’s end Oct. 29. “We’re so engrossed.”
But it’s no joke to Ryder—or the intent prosecution. “When you walk out the door with $5,560.40 worth of stolen property,” said Rundle, “that is grand theft, no matter who you are.”