By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The trial of Winona Ryder, who was found guilty of two felonies in a compromise verdict Wednesday, was never really about guilt or innocence. It was not a case of ”shoplifting,“ as Mark Geragos, the attorney for the 31-year-old actress, constantly asserted. Nor was it grand theft and felony vandalism, as District Attorney Steve Cooley insisted, practically from the moment the pale, invariably polite Ryder was taken December 12 from the Saks Fifth Avenue basement security room to the Beverly Hills Police Department booking desk, some seven blocks away. True, Ryder had been nabbed just outside the store‘s plate-glass doorway, car keys in hand, toting $5,560 in tony merchandise -- including a $1,595 white spaghetti-strap Gucci evening dress, a $760 Marc Jacobs cashmere thermal shirt, a $539.90 (on sale) black Natori handbag, a $110 black Frederic Fekkai hair clip with silver sequins, and an $80 pair of tan Donna Karan socks -- neatly concealed beneath the Dolce & Gabbana brown bomber jacket, $297 pair of Gucci shoes and two YSL tops she had paid for.
If the Ryder trial had been about a burglary -- about whether Ryder willfully heisted the goods -- it is unlikely that the Los Angeles Superior Court, which this year alone had a shortfall of $57 million and has laid off 200 workers, would have been employed, along with 12 jurors and three alternates, for two weeks, to render a verdict. A modicum of justice -- at a savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the county, and roughly as much for the defendant -- could have been achieved with a plea bargain.
But the district attorney had something other than justice in mind. And it was up to the defense to expose the D.A.’s motive or, failing that, to ascribe one of its own to the prosecution. Geragos hinted at this early, in his opening remarks to the jury. After collaring his client and sequestering her in a small, windowless room, Geragos claimed, Saks security personnel lifted Ryder‘s velour shirt and helped themselves to a salacious peek at her famously perky breasts. ”She’s not wearing a bra,“ the defense attorney cried, his voice filled with indignation. Throughout the trial he evinced a range of carefully calibrated emotions -- caustic, sarcastic, disbelieving and, at this moment, outraged. ”What this shows you,“ Geragos continued, ”is what was really going on here was not a bust for a simple theft.“
Throughout the first four and a half days of testimony, Geragos, 45, ignored the implications of his initial remarks, and focused instead on what he hoped to convince the jury was the central weakness of the prosecution‘s case. Assiduously sidestepping the train wreck that Ryder was, indeed, nabbed with goodies for which she had no receipt, Geragos instead mercilessly attacked the truthfulness of Saks’ security staff. From the prosecution‘s lead witness, store security chief Kenneth Evans, he elicited the admission that four sensor tags Ryder had allegedly clipped from the purloined items were not marked in a log when he placed them in a Saks evidence locker. ”I didn’t think they were necessary to prove that Winona Ryder had shoplifted on December 12,“ Evans said. Evans also acknowledged that he‘d never mentioned the recovered tags in his written report -- despite the fact that still stuck in the clothespin pincers of three tags were scraps that mated perfectly to holes in the stolen garments. How could such salient evidence be left out, Geragos seemed to say, unless it never existed in the first place? Evans’ colleague Colleen Rainey, who‘d testified that she peered through the jalousie slats in a dressing-room door and saw Ryder hunched on the floor dabbing a bloody finger and snipping sensor tags with orange-handled scissors, conceded that she too had omitted these obviously pertinent details from her written statements dated December 12 and 13.
Since the sensor-tag evidence never found its way into any of Saks’ original reports on the incident, and since at no time on the notorious hour-and-a-half Saks surveillance tape was Ryder seen snipping the tags, Geragos was asking jurors to believe that what they‘d been given was ”new and improved testimony.“
That was Ryder’s case -- if it could be called a case in the face of the overwhelming credibility of the prosecution witnesses, largely corroborated on tape -- until the middle of the afternoon last Friday.
Geragos summoned a disgruntled ex--Saks employee, Michael Shoar, to the stand. Shoar was not the most credible witness for the defense. Asked on cross-examination by the prosecutor, Ann Rundle, if he had an ax to grind against Saks, he said, ”Yes, I do,“ but later replied to the question ”Isn‘t it true you are very angry with Saks Fifth Avenue?,“ ”No, I am not.“ If the laughter from the audience and some of the jurors was any indication, many of them thought he was lying. Nonetheless, Shoar, a stylish man with moussed hair and a black four-button suit that made him look like the impresario of an after-hours club, brought out, in a single captivating line, what this trial was really all about. Shoar said that prosecution lead witness Ken Evans told him right after Ryder’s arrest, ”I will nail that Beverly Hills bitch for shoplifting charges.“
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