By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated September 08, 2003 10:00 AM

Winona Ryder is showing support for three inmates she believes were falsely accused and imprisoned for the 1993 ritualistic murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis. The actress sponsored an exhibit at a downtown Los Angeles art gallery on Saturday night to raise awareness for the case.

Acknowledging her own brush with the law (Ryder was convicted on grand theft charges following a Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue shoplifting trip in December 2001), the “Girl, Interrupted” actress, 31, tells USA Today: “I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of jokes.”

“To me, (my case) has nothing to do with the other,” she adds. “It is incomparable. I am not in prison. I am not on death row. I did not in any way experience what these guys have experienced. They are in my hearts every day, and I will never give up until they’re out.”

Ryder reportedly rose to the support of inmates Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley (known as “the West Memphis 3”) after seeing the 1996 HBO documentary “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” which raised questions as to their guilt.

As USA Today notes, Ryder’s ex-squeeze, Johnny Depp, and rocker Eddie Vedder have also supported the trio, speaking out on their behalf at concerts. Ryder (who reportedly corresponds with the inmates) and the musicians are calling for DNA testing and new trials in the case.

“I’ve always been incredibly drawn to the whole idea of a witch hunt, which is why I did ‘The Crucible,'” said Ryder, pointing out that the appearance and musical tastes of the convicted men figured into the prosecution’s arguments against them.

“A lot of us have experienced being teased in school for being the different kid,” Ryder says. “You know, I’m the girl from ‘Beetlejuice’ (who) wore black and dyed my hair black. I was the outsider.”