Winona Ryder … girl, convicted

Associated Press

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — A jury on Wednesday found Winona Ryder guilty of stealing more than $5,500 worth of merchandise during a shoplifting spree at a Saks Fifth Avenue last year, but the actress will likely avoid jail.

The prosecutor said she would not try to put the 31-year-old, two-time Academy Award nominee behind bars, saying she would seek probation, community service and restitution at Ryder’s sentencing Dec. 6. The charges could have carried up to three years in prison.

Ryder showed no emotion after the jury, which included former movie studio chief Peter Guber, convicted her of felony grand theft and vandalism, the latter charge for cutting sensor tags off merchandise, and acquitted her of burglary.

The actress withheld comment afterward.

“Thanks for asking,” she said. “I just can’t talk right now.”

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said in a statement he hoped the court “addresses the problems of the defendant that may have led her to engage in the criminal conduct.”

Cooley did not identify the problems, and there was no testimony about any adversities with which the actress may be dealing. Ryder has said she has been treated for depression and exhaustion.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos said he will ask for a new trial.

The court bailiff said jurors did not wish to speak to news media until the sentencing.

Deputy District Attorney Ann Rundle said outside court that she found Ryder to be “very nice” and that prison was never considered.

“This was never about her character, only her conduct,” Rundle said. “We were simply asking for Miss Ryder to take responsibility for her conduct.”

The count on which she was acquitted required a specific intent to go into the store to steal. District attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said jurors often believe burglary is a crime of breaking and entering, but it does not require those circumstances.

Ryder was arrested Dec. 12, 2001, as she left the Beverly Hills Saks, her arms laden with packages. The jury was shown videotapes of her wandering through the store’s boutiques and taking a large amount of clothes into dressing rooms.

The tapes did not show Ryder cutting off sensor tags with scissors, but a security guard testified she looked through door slats and witnessed the vandalism.

Security staff testified that after being caught, Ryder claimed a director had told her to shoplift to prepare for a movie role.

At the start of her shopping trip, she paid more than $3,000 for a jacket and two blouses. The defense claimed Ryder believed the store would keep her account “open” and charge her later. But there was no evidence of an account.

Ryder’s arrest drew international attention. Media interest grew when Ryder appeared on Saturday Night Live and MTV joking about her case. During her preliminary hearing, Ryder was jostled by a crush of TV cameras and suffered an arm injury.

Efforts to settle the case failed, but just before the trial, the district attorney’s office agreed to dismiss a drug charge against Ryder after a doctor said he had given her two pills found in her possession when she was arrested.

The 12-member jury included several people with Hollywood connections, including Guber, head of Mandalay Entertainment and previously head of Sony Entertainment Pictures, where three successful Ryder films were made.