Winona Ryder gets probation, fines

Dec. 6, 2002 at 2:54 PM
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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Actress Winona Ryder was sentenced Friday to 36 months probation for stealing $6,355 worth of merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills last December.

Superior Court Judge Elden Fox also ordered Ryder to pay more than $11,000 in fines and restitution, to perform 480 hours of community service, and to get drug and psychological counseling. Los Angeles County prosecutors had recommended that Ryder be sentenced to community service, to pay more than $26,300 in fines and restitution, and to undergo counseling after her Nov. 6 conviction on felony grand theft and vandalism charges.

The sentence included one day in the county jail, but Fox gave her credit for the day she served following her arrest, so the Oscar-nominated star of "The Age of Innocence" and Girl, Interrupted" will not have to serve any further time behind bars.

"If you steal again you will go to jail," the judge told Ryder. "Do you understand that?"

"Yes, your honor, I do," said Ryder.

Ryder was ordered to complete the community service requirement by April 7, 2003, at which time she is due back in court for a progress report.

There was a brief flare-up in the courtroom Friday after Ryder's lawyer Mark Geragos asked the judge to take into consideration the ways in which Ryder has "very privately leveraged her celebrity ... to do a lot of public good." As an example, Geragos mentioned that Ryder had used her celebrity to "seek justice" for Polly Klaas, the Petaluma, Calif. girl who was abducted from her home and killed in October 1993.

In response, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Ann Rundle said it was offensive for Geragos "to trot out the body of a dead child." Before she could finish her sentence, Geragos loudly complained, "That's just so outrageous!"

Following an admonition from Fox, the lawyers dropped the matter and cooled down.

Speaking with reporters outside the courthouse after sentence, Polly Klaas' father Mark Klaas -- who had supported Ryder throughout the prosecution called Rundle's comment "low-down."

"Winona Ryder may be a double felon," said Mark Klaas, "but she is a double felon with a very good heart and a very generous spirit."

There was also an exchange in the courtroom about whether Ryder was getting special treatment because of her fame.

"The most important thing I would say," said Rundle, "is that this defendant should be treated no different from any other defendant before this court."

Geragos said Ryder had been treated "anything but" the same way other defendants are treated in a shoplifting case.

"It's clear to me at least in 20 years of practice that this case has been handled unlike any other case that I've ever seen," he said.

Geragos also took exception to parts of a victim impact statement delivered by Saks Fifth Avenue lawyer Kenneth Metzner, who asked the judge to take into account the impact of the defense strategy on the company and its employees. Metzner said Saks employees had been publicly branded as liars, and that their personal lives had been unfairly subjected to investigation by Ryder's defense team.

"It is hardly fair that honest hard working people who were just doing their jobs ... should be subjected to such intense and malicious scrutiny merely because they had the misfortune of apprehending a movie star thief," said Metzner.

In response, Geragos repeated the main theme of his defense of Ryder -- that she had been unfairly singled out for prosecution by Saks, as well as by prosecutors. He accused Saks of refusing to discuss settling the case because the upscale department store chain was getting "I don't know how much publicity" from the case.

"Within two days of the arrest I was ... trying to settle this case," said Geragos. "(Prosecutors) wanted a dog and pony show at every single point."

Acknowledging that Ryder will "always be branded as a shoplifter," Geragos argued that conviction for a property crime should not destroy her reputation.

"One day of bad should certainly not trump over a decade of what I consider to be exemplary work," he said.

In passing sentence, Fox said he recognized that "generally law abiding people do commit criminal acts on occasion," but he said that "they generally learn from their experience."

Fox said the sentence took into account that Ryder had no prior record before her arrest.

"It is not my intention to make an example of you," he said. "I'm going to hold you accountable for what occurred on Dec. 12, 2001. You have disappointed many people who have been entertained and inspired by your talent and also you acts of humanity over many, many years."

Ryder will be allowed to leave the county and state for film work, but she will need to notify the court before she goes anywhere. She will be banned from possessing narcotics without a prescription and must stay away from places where drug users and sellers congregate.

Geragos asked that the merchandise Ryder was convicted of stealing be turned over to the defense following restitution.

According to court transcripts made public after Ryder's trial, the Oscar-nominated star of "Girl, Interrupted" and "Little Women" was suspected of shoplifting on three other occasions at upscale stores. The judge in Ryder's case did not allow that information to be presented as evidence at her trial.

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