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Ryder hearing delayed by broken arm

June 4, 2002 at 4:11 AM   |   Comments

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., June 3 (UPI) -- A preliminary hearing in the shoplifting and drug possession case against actress Winona Ryder was delayed shortly after it began Monday, after Ryder suffered what her lawyer said was a fractured bone in her right arm when she was struck -- possibly by a news photographer's camera -- as she went into the courthouse past a crowd of journalists.

Los Angeles County prosecutors had begun to present the case against Ryder in Beverly Hills when Superior Court Judge Elden Fox called off the proceedings so that Ryder could see a doctor.

"At this point in time, I'm advised there is some swelling," said the judge.

Speaking later on CNN's "Larry King Live," Ryder's lawyer, Mark Geragos, said he did not know what caused the injury. He said the fracture was in the area of Ryder's elbow.

"It appears that it's a clean fracture, so it looks like it'll heal," said Geragos. "She's quite a trouper. She wanted to stay there and continue with the preliminary hearing.

"I'm looking at the arm and telling her, 'I'm not going to sit here as your arm's blowing up.' The deputy's telling her she's not going to allow her to do it. We're both telling her that, and she's saying 'No, I want to get through this, I want to deal with it.'"

The hearing was scheduled to resume Thursday.

Geragos told CNN that media reports that the judge was angry over her absence at the start of the day were inaccurate. He said Ryder had been on call, and the judge instructed him to call her and come to court for the hearing.

The hearing is intended to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to bring Ryder to trial on charges that she shoplifted close to $4,800 worth of merchandise last December from Saks Fifth Avenue on the world-renowned Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills

The 30-year-old actress is free on $20,000 bail after pleaded not guilty to theft, burglary, vandalism and possession of a controlled substance -- the painkiller Oxycodone.

Ryder declined to speak to reporters when she arrived at the courthouse.

Fox put off a decision Monday on a defense motion to disqualify the Los Angeles County District Attorney in the case. Geragos said the D.A.'s office had "an ax to grind" against his client because she is a celebrity.

Prosecutors called Saks security manager Kenneth Evans to the stand on Monday. He testified that Ryder was tracked by a surveillance camera and watched by security personnel as she made her way through the store with an armful of clothes. Evans said she went into a fitting room with the clothes, but was not obviously in possession of them when she came out.

There has been some dispute about exactly what the surveillance tape shows.

Ryder is seen browsing in the store, and when prosecutors filed charges against her they quoted police as saying that the actress could be seen on tape cutting security tags from merchandise. Geragos said the tape shows no such thing.

"Contrary to the public perception, this tape exonerates her," Geragos told The Orlando Sentinel in March. "I'd say this is a prosecution, interrupted."

Ryder -- who opens with Adam Sandler June 28 in the movie "Mr. Deeds" -- became a star in the 1980s with appearances in "Beetlejuice," "Heathers" and "Great Balls of Fire!" She was nominated twice for the Oscar -- for best actress in "Little Women" (1994), and best supporting actress in "The Age of Innocence" (1993).

If convicted on all charges, Ryder could be sentenced to up to 3 years and 8 months in prison. But in public, she has been having some fun with the shoplifting and drug possession case against her.

She allowed herself to be photographed wearing a "Free Winona" T-shirt for the cover of W magazine, and cracked jokes about the situation when she was the guest-host for the season finale of "Saturday Night Live" on NBC.

Howard Weitzman, a prominent Los Angeles attorney who has represented John DeLorean and O.J. Simpson, said Ryder's demeanor might work against her -- both in court and in the court of public opinion.

"She, through her lawyer, has taken a rather cynical approach to the system," Weitzman told United Press International. "She's poked fun and minimized the conduct and ridiculed the prosecution and law enforcement."

Weitzman said that with the preliminary hearing underway, Ryder may have lost her best opportunity for a favorable plea bargain.

"Once you start the preliminary hearing and evidence begins to be produced," he said, "positions begin to harden, and if there's a plea bargain to be made it sometimes becomes more difficult."

Weitzman said defendants who flaunt the system often leave prosecutors no choice but to try the case vigorously, because to do otherwise would encourage other defendants to thumb their noses at the judicial system. He thinks Ryder has already lost the public relations battle.

"The presumption is that she did this," he said, "just from talking to people, reading the media, listening to the Lenos and the Lettermans."

The veteran defense lawyer said he thinks Geragos has already decided against a plea bargain and is committed to taking the case to trial.

"In a case as high-profile as this you want to have a hearing to test the strength of the state's case, because you want to contest it all the way to the end," said Weitzman. "Otherwise I would presume he would have engaged in a plea bargain -- and probably would have been successful."

If Geragos decides a plea bargain is in his client's best interest, Weitzman said the window of opportunity is still open -- but not as wide open as it was before the preliminary hearing began.

"Each day it goes on, it gets tougher and tougher," he said.

Meanwhile, Weitzman said there is something Ryder can do to help her cause whether the case goes to trial or is settled with a plea bargain.

"Stop with the smart remarks," he said.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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