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Warning, Probation for Ryder

Times Staff Writer

Warning “if you steal again, you will go to jail,” a Los Angeles County judge on Friday sentenced film star Winona Ryder to three years’ probation, mental health counseling and 480 hours of community service for shoplifting designer merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills.

“You have disappointed many people inspired and entertained by your talents,” Superior Court Judge Elden S. Fox told the two-time Oscar nominee, who nodded sheepishly as he spoke sternly. “You have refused to accept personal responsibility.”

Ryder, 31, also was ordered to pay more than $10,000 in fines, including $6,355.40 to Saks for stolen and damaged goods from her infamous shopping trip last December.

The actress faced up to three years in state prison on her conviction last month on felony grand theft and vandalism charges.

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During the acrimonious, one-hour sentencing hearing in a Beverly Hills courtroom, Ryder -- who starred in “Girl, Interrupted,” “Little Women” and “The Age of Innocence” -- declined to make a statement.

She did, however, express herself with body language.

When a Saks supervisor, addressing the court as the victim of the crime, called her a “movie star thief,” Ryder’s brown eyes widened with a look of innocence.

And when Deputy Dist. Atty. Ann Rundle accused Ryder and her attorney of “trot[ting] out the body of a dead child,” Polly Klaas, to deflect from her criminal acts, Ryder jumped out of her seat, gasping as she glared at the prosecutor.

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Rundle’s remarks were directed to repeated court references to Ryder’s work on behalf of the Polly Klaas Foundation, which deals with missing children such as the youngster who was kidnapped and murdered nine years ago in Petaluma, where Ryder once lived.

” ... That is just so outrageous, judge,” Ryder’s attorney, Mark Geragos, said as he tried to comfort his glowering client.

Rundle snapped back: “I’ve had to listen to this for a year.”

Geragos called the exchange inappropriate, citing it as one of many examples of how Ryder, who has no prior convictions, has been unfairly accused of committing “heinous acts.”

“To try and tar and feather her, I think, is revolting,” Geragos said before highlighting Ryder’s “generous” monetary donations and volunteer time to good causes.

Besides helping the Klaas Foundation, he said, Ryder also has assisted college students on an Indian reservation.

In issuing his sentence Friday, Judge Fox ordered Ryder to volunteer at the City of Hope cancer center in Duarte, the Foundation for the Junior Blind, and Caring for Children and Families With AIDS.

The judge also ordered Ryder to undergo court-approved drug and psychological counseling programs.

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According to a county probation report made public over Geragos’ objection after Friday’s sentencing, police discovered a hypodermic needle along with eight types of prescription drugs in Ryder’s possession when she was booked at the Beverly Hills jail.

Officers said Ryder deceived them about the drugs in her purse. When they found a bottle marked Aleve, Ryder told police it was the nonprescription painkiller. Instead, the officer discovered 40 tablets of Vicoprofen and two Vicoden pills inside the bottle.

Ryder told county probation officers that she took those and other drugs to treat a herniated disk she suffered while rehearsing for a movie. Days before shopping at Saks, Ryder said, she also injured her arm when she fell off a skateboard.

Rundle said in court Friday that Ryder had “more pain medication in her purse than someone with a terminal disease.”

According to the report, from January 1996 to December 1998, Ryder had 37 prescriptions filled by 30 doctors. She obtained the medications from a Rite-Aid drugstore on Sunset Boulevard as well as pharmacies in the San Fernando Valley.

The California Medical Board investigated one of the doctors who prescribed Ryder’s medication and discovered that he had written several prescriptions to her under an alias, Emily Thompson, according to the probation report.

“If the defendant was under ‘pain management guidance,’ then the procedures that are recognized to effect pain were certainly not followed by this doctor,” the report states. “Apparently, he was a popular doctor because he made house calls and hotel calls.”

The state board revoked the doctor’s license Friday.

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The state and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration told investigating officers for the probation report that the doctor had been “kicked out of South Africa for overmedicating people. He came to California and apparently is listed as a tattoo and hair removal doctor but at one time he was a licensed therapist. Apparently he is the doctor to many celebrity people.”

In the report, a Beverly Hills police detective states that he believes Ryder has a drug problem. “We don’t want to find her slumped over in a car with a needle in her arm,” he said.

Ryder, however, told police that she has always been terrified of nonprescription drugs and had not used any, according to the report.

She told police that a doctor prescribed Clonopin for her at age 19 when she was in the midst of a romantic breakup.

She stopped taking the drug after a year, she said, when she realized it was “too much,” the report states. She also occasionally took the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.

At Saks, Ryder stole $5,560 worth of merchandise, including five purses, four hairpieces, two hats and a blouse by top fashion designers such as Calvin Klein, Donna Karen, Yves St. Laurent and Dolce and Gabanna.

The merchandise also included a white Gucci dress valued at $1,595.

During her trial, Saks security agents testified that the actress said she took the items as research for a movie role. She also told security agents that she thought her assistant had paid for the goods.

A security tape that was a key piece of evidence during the trial showed no assistant with her as she walked through the store laden with merchandise and shopping bags.

During the sentencing hearing, a Saks vice president said shoplifting cost his store more than $7 million last year, money that could have gone toward employee raises, health care and pension benefits, or the creation of new jobs.

“When shoplifters steal from stores,” Kenneth Metzner said, “they are picking the pockets of the American people.”

Despite Ryder’s “aberrant behavior” last year, her attorney, Geragos, said she is “the classiest woman I have ever met.”

No matter what the sentence, the attorney said, Ryder will have to “carry this with her, a scarlet letter of an ‘S’ wherever she goes.”

Ryder is due to return to court on April 7 for a status report. By that time, she must complete her community service.

Outside the Beverly Hills courthouse, Geragos told a swarm of reporters from around the world that Ryder “has her work cut out for her,” but is committed to serving her probation sentence without incident.

Standing next to the attorney, Marc Klaas praised Ryder’s “unsolicited acts of benevolence.... She may be a double felon, but she’s a double felon with a very big heart and a generous spirit.”

Geragos was coy when asked whether he would file an appeal. “I have 60 days,” he said, as he dashed past dozens of cameras and reporters.

Later, Geragos indicated that he would seek to have the conviction reduced to a misdemeanor once Ryder completes her probation.

A statement released Friday by Ryder’s publicist said the actress “accepts responsibility for what happened on Dec. 12, 2001, and ... is relieved to finally put this behind her and is hopeful that she will be able to restore some modicum of privacy.”

During the hearing, Judge Fox told Ryder that he hopes she “reflects on” and “confronts” the problems that caused her to shoplift. “I have a 16-year-old son named Ryan who asked, ‘Why would Winona Ryder steal from Saks Fifth Avenue when she has enough money to buy anything?’ ”

Fox stared at Ryder. “You’re the only person who can answer that.”


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