Winona Ryder found guilty of theft


US: A glum Winona Ryder has been convicted of shoplifting from the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beverly Hills, California, after a sensational trial in which prosecutors repeatedly reminded jurors that the rich and famous were not above the law.

The 31-year-old Oscar-nominated actress was convicted of slipping out of Saks last December with $5,500 of designer tops, handbags, hair bows and socks stuffed in her shopping bags and hidden on her person.

The jury panel, which included former Sony Pictures studio head Mr Peter Guber and at least two others with Hollywood connections, found her guilty of grand theft and vandalism but not guilty of commercial burglary.

That charge would have required proof that she had deliberately gone to the store with intent to steal, legal experts said.

Ryder, who starred in Girl, Interrupted and was nominated twice for Oscars, in 1995's Little Women and for a best supporting role in 1993's The Age of Innocence, sat wide-eyed and expressionless in the packed courtroom as the verdicts were read, but moments later appeared close to tears. She left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elden Fox allowed Ryder to go free on the $20,000 bail she posted after her arrest at the store, until her sentencing. She faces a possible prison term of up to three years when she is sentenced on December 6th.

Most legal experts do not expect her to spend time behind bars but they were surprised at the severity of the charges brought against her, saying that shoplifting cases seldom go to trial. Some suggested that she was singled out for her celebrity.

The verdict was carried live on nationwide television. Ms Ann Rundle, prosecuting, said Ryder walked into the store with a pair of scissors and cut sensor tags off handbags worth hundreds of dollars in what amounted to a "simple case of theft". Ryder's attorney, Mr Mark Geragos, suggested in his closing statement that she was the victim of a frame-up by store employees.

Ryder did not testify.

She was convicted after the jury heard that she shoplifted for the "sheer thrill" of it. Ms Rundle told the jury that the star, who can command about $6 million a movie, stole the designer goods simply to see if she could get away with it.

"She came, she stole, she left - end of story," Ms Rundle told the jury in her closing argument.

During five days of evidence, the court heard that Ryder arrived at Saks for a pre-Christmas shopping trip last year. During her shopping expedition, she bought several items but stole many more.

Her haul of stolen goods included designer hats, tops, socks, bags and hair accessories, ranging in price from $10 to $500.

She also stole a white Gucci dress worth just over $1,000.

Soon after arriving at the store, Ryder bought a pair of Gucci shoes worth about $200. She spent more than 1½ hours at the store and a security video tape seen by the jury showed her wandering around, picking up armfuls of designer clothing.

She caught the attention of Saks's security chief, Mr Kenneth Evans, when she knelt down and stuffed various hair accessories and socks inside a hat she was carrying. - (Reuters, PA)