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Ryder pleads innocent to shoplifting

  |   June 14, 2002 at 6:06 PM
Winona Ryder pleaded innocent Friday in a shoplifting and drug possession case stemming from her arrest last December at a Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beverly Hills.

The Oscar-nominated actress was arraigned in Beverly Hills on charges of second-degree burglary, grand theft, vandalism and possession of a controlled substance.

If convicted, she faces up to three years and eight months in state prison. Ryder is free on $20,000 bail.

Judge Elden Fox set a pretrial hearing for July 15, but said that Ryder will not be required to be present. He tentatively set a trial date for Aug. 13.

At a preliminary hearing last week, Los Angeles prosecutors presented evidence they said shows Ryder stole more than $6,000 worth of merchandise. The drug charge involves alleged possession of the painkiller oxycodone without a prescription.

A store security officer testified at the hearing that she saw the star of "Girl, Interrupted" clipping security tags from merchandise she is accused of stealing. Colleen Rainey testified that she was looking through slats in a dressing room door and saw Ryder use scissors to cut tags from two purses and stuff the purses into her shopping bag.

Rainey also said she saw Ryder try to remove anti-theft tags from two other purses -- and that the actress cut her finger and left a blood spot in the bottom of one of the bags.

Kenneth Evans, the head of security at the store, testified that when he first saw Ryder on a store surveillance camera he mistook her for a bag lady -- because she carrying several bags and had on a long cashmere coat. He told the court that six anti-theft tags that had evidently been cut off of merchandise were found hidden in the store the day after Ryder was arrested -- including three on which the cut marks matched items Ryder was holding when she was arrested.

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. Ryder's lawyer, Mark 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."

After the preliminary hearing, Geragos told reporters the prosecution witnesses "lied through their teeth." He characterized their testimony as "close to full-blown perjury."

He said Ryder didn't steal the merchandise she is accused of stealing, and he believes the store "targeted" her.

"I've got evidence that Saks targeted her," he said.

Geragos has also accused the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office of targeting Ryder because she is a celebrity.

He has filed a motion asking the judge in the case to disqualify the D.A.'s office from trying the case. If the motion is granted, the California Attorney General's office would prosecute the case.

The motion has been placed under seal.

Prosecutors filed documents last month indicating plans to show that her alleged shoplifting is part of a pattern of behavior -- although court records indicate no convictions on her record.

The judge last week ordered journalists not to come within 10 feet of Ryder, after she was injured outside the courthouse on the first day of her preliminary hearing.

Ryder -- who opens with Adam Sandler June 28 in "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).

© 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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