By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
There it was, the pivot of the trial, reduced to one off-color remark. It almost didn‘t matter whether Shoar was telling the truth, although it should have been obvious to anyone paying close attention to the case that he was, in fact, telling a version of the truth when he recounted his eventful lunch with Evans. Evans reportedly said, while eating a sandwich at Piazza Rodeo in Beverly Hills, ”I’m going to bring her down one way or another.“ This is exactly the kind of boast one might expect to hear from a career security man who‘s got the dirt on a seemingly untouchable movie star. It is exactly how a security chief might feel after he’d captured a suspect red-handed, only to be caught up, as he testified, in a 20-minute strategy spree with corporate bigwigs in New York and L.A., who were debating if they ought to green-light his wish to surrender her to the BHPD. It is dripping with the class resentment -- and the motive to ”frame“ Ryder -- that Geragos had been hinting at throughout the trial. That tension, the love and the hate, which always exists between Hollywood celebrities and their fans, was hovering around the courtroom like a National Enquirer reporter at Tom Cruise‘s last-known watering hole. Money, fame and an apple-cheeked freshness were being taken down by the seething underclasses.
Geragos was employing inverse schadenfreude. His pitch, of course, was aimed at a jury that included not only Peter Guber, the former Sony chief who produced three of Ryder’s pictures, but a Sony paralegal, a UCLA film student whose wife is a Disney executive, a children‘s programming-development exec and a retired Beverly Hills ob-gyn to the stars. With so little else to use on her behalf, it was worth trying to appeal to these jurors’, and perhaps the others‘, sense of the propriety of their own lofty place in the social order. The victim in this case was not Saks, but Winona Ryder, and the injuries of class, Geragos was arguing, were being inflicted from below by department-store employees jealous of the actress’s charmed life. This was a message that should have had special appeal to what rightly, in Ryder‘s case, could be called a jury of one’s peers. And so, Ryder sat in court, demure as ever (though, at times, she shot withering looks at her courtroom adversaries), displaying her graceful posture and porcelain beauty against the prurient interest and low-priced couture of Saks‘ security personnel. In his closing remarks, Geragos called Ken Evans ”almost haughty, strutting,“ then added, as if offering dispensation, that there is ”no shame in coming back with a not-guilty verdict for Winona.“
The prosecution made a similar gambit, less before the jury -- because the facts were on its side -- than to the public at large. District Attorney Cooley wanted to send a message with this prosecution that the rich and famous don’t get special treatment on his watch. Yet from the start, Cooley miscalculated. He charged Ryder with a felony, but according to an opinion poll commissioned by the defense, 67 percent of county residents regarded this as ”a waste of taxpayer dollars.“ The poll, which cost roughly $10,000, was conducted by a Republican pollster, Kellyanne Conway. Conway found that nearly three out of four Angelenos thought that if the shoplifting tape did not involve a ”young, pretty, celebrity actress,“ the D.A. would not have so vigorously pursued the case. More than half of those polled felt Ryder was being treated unfairly by the D.A., believing that the case ”is just the latest example of how . . . Cooley puts politics before justice . . .“ And by a margin of nearly 3-to-1, registered voters said that if Cooley had been up for re-election this Tuesday, they‘d have voted against him.
Back in the courtroom of Judge Elden S. Fox, these figures played no direct role. Rundle, a sharp-eyed prosecutor who handled the jurors as if they were kindergartners on the first day of school, countered Geragos’ spin with a woeful concoction of pathos of her own. ”Saks‘ security were just good people doing their jobs. They had the misfortune to catch someone shoplifting, a person with resources, and then they were accused of being liars. Miss Ryder got a full and fair trial. But what about the Saks employees? They’ve been called names, had accusations thrown at them, had their personal lives turned upside down.“
On Wednesday, the jury returned its verdict, finding her guilty of vandalism and grand theft, and not guilty of burglary. Cooley may have won in the courtroom, but the outcome of this sideshow of class warfare will be up to the public to decide.