By Julie K.L. Dam
Updated November 25, 2002 12:00 PM

Throughout her trial for shoplifting, Winona Ryder maintained the same look of wideeyed innocence that fans have warmed to onscreen. But after she was convicted of felony vandalism and theft on Nov. 6, even her pals couldn’t call it a bum rap. “She feels like she’s in The Crucible,” says Ryder’s rocker friend Courtney Love. “She’s got a problem. It’s not a physical addiction. It’s a compulsion. It’s the same madness as any other shopaholic.”

Now unsealed court papers have shed light on just how compulsive Ryder may have been. During her trial prosecutors were barred from presenting evidence of three prior incidents in which Ryder, 31, allegedly shoplifted. On two occasions her forays in Barneys New York stores in Beverly Hills and in Manhattan were even recorded on surveillance tapes similar to those shown in court (where she was tried for stealing $5,560 worth of goods from the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beverly Hills). Once, she was asked to pay for a sweater that was found concealed under her coat, but another time, at the Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills, she wasn’t stopped because there wasn’t a female security officer on duty to search her. Ryder wasn’t charged in any of the incidents. In general, “some of [the stores] don’t think it’s worth going to court,” says a former Beverly Hills police detective who did not want to be named. “They get the merchandise back, tell them not to come back into their store, and that’s the extent of it.”

If Ryder does indeed have a compulsion to shoplift, she isn’t the first wealthy person to experience it. “Kleptomania doesn’t know one socioeconomic group, “says psychologist Marcus J. Goldman, author of Kleptomania: The Compulsion to Steal. Why? “It’s the kind of thing people use when they don’t have a lot of other things going on in their life,” says Goldman. “People like this tend to be lonely, isolated, very depressed, people with anxiety. They often have trouble with interpersonal relationships.”

Ironically, Ryder’s TV exposure during the trial may prove a professional boon. “What difference does it make?” says veteran casting director Mike Fenton. “I truly believe that short of murder, the press that actors get just makes the world more aware of them.”

Ryder is expected to be sentenced to community service and probation at a Dec. 6 hearing, after which she will, no doubt, get back to stealing scenes. “Last time I talked to her, she seemed relieved more than anything else,” says her friend Marc Klaas. “This has held up her life and career. She wants to do other things than contemplate a public humiliation.”

Julie K.L. Dam

Michael Fleemanjodd Gold, Lyndon Stambler, Frank Swertlow and Carrie Bell in LA, Rachel Felder in New York City and Melissa Schorr in San Francisco