By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated October 25, 2002 11:00 AM
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As Winona Ryder sat solemnly at the counsel table taking notes, jury selection began in a Beverly Hills courtroom Thursday in the long-awaited shoplifting trial of the “Girl, Interrupted” star, the Associated Press reports.

Superior Court Judge Elden Fox warned the initial panel of 33 potential jurors to ignore all the press coverage surrounding the case and not discuss it with anyone. “Obviously there has been some publicity in regard to this matter,” said the jurist, producing a written questionnaire for the prospective jurors to tell the court what they know of the case and whether they have any opinions of it.

Besides news coverage, Ryder herself has helped contributed to the public awareness of her plight. She spoofed her charges on “Saturday Night Live” earlier this year and posed for the cover of June’s W magazine wearing a “Free Winona” T-shirt.

Ryder, 30, was arrested last December at the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beverly Hills for allegedly stealing nearly $6,000 worth of merchandise, including hats, handbags, tops and hair accessories. Ryder could face up to three years in prison if convicted of three felony counts of grand theft, second-degree burglary and vandalism. She has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

Last week, prosecutors dropped another felony charge, that of illegal possession of a prescription painkiller.

The jurors’ written test helped wrap up Thursday’s session, said Judge Fox, who announced that court would resume Friday afternoon. He also said that once a jury is selected, the trial would in all likelihood last five to seven days, with Monday probably bringing a presentation of initial evidence.

It is still unclear whether Ryder herself will testify.