Testimony Begins in Ryder Trial
A Saks Fifth Avenue security manager testified Monday that actress Winona Ryder admitted shoplifting and said she did so to train for a future film role.
Kenneth Evans, the first witness called to the stand at Ryder’s felony trial, told jurors she took his hand and politely apologized for what she had done. “She just said she was doing what her director told her to do in preparation for her role as a shoplifter,” he told jurors, in testimony that appeared to surprise the defense.
Evans, a veteran employee at the tony Beverly Hills department store, said that before calling police to take the high-profile actress into custody, he consulted with Saks corporate officials.
Evans, who will be cross-examined today, testified after both sides delivered their opening statements in the case, which is expected to continue for at least a week.
Prosecutors said Ryder, 30, went to Saks with the intent to shoplift, while her defense attorney said she was set up by “out of control” security guards and never stole anything.
Ryder watched intently, occasionally glancing back at her friends and family in the courtroom. The star of such films as “Little Women” and “Mr. Deeds” is accused of stealing $5,560.40 worth of merchandise from the store on Dec. 12. She faces charges of grand theft, burglary and vandalism and could be sentenced to three years in state prison if convicted. She is free on $20,000 bail.
Evans told jurors he first noticed Ryder because she was carrying so many bags and seemed to have trouble holding all of them. At the time, Evans said, he didn’t realize who she was. When he found out, he testified, “I couldn’t care less.” As Evans followed her route on the security cameras, he said she visited several departments, pulling items off racks and piling the merchandise on her arms.
After she left the store, he testified, staffers stopped Ryder and recovered items that hadn’t been paid for, along with others she did purchase.
The jurors also began watching a highly publicized 90-minute surveillance video, which shows Ryder wandering through the store with several bags and stuffing socks and hair accessories in a hat. During the video, Ryder is seen entering a dressing room -- where there are no store cameras. Evans said his investigator, Colleen Rainey, told him she saw Ryder cut sensor tags off several items while she was in that dressing room.
When asked why Evans didn’t detain the actress at that point, he said, “Until she exited the store, she still had an opportunity to change her mind and say, ‘I want to pay for it.’ ”
Evans said he later found four sensor tags in the pocket of a jacket in the Chanel department. The tags, which had material still on them, matched items security investigators took from Ryder when she was arrested, he said.
During opening statements, Deputy Dist. Atty. Ann Rundle told jurors Ryder entered Saks Fifth Avenue equipped to shoplift, with scissors to cut off sensor tags, a heavy garment bag to hide stolen merchandise and tissue paper to wrap up clothes.
“All this case amounts to is a simple case of theft -- nothing more, nothing less,” she said.
Rundle told jurors that Ryder bought four items the day she was arrested, but that she stole more than 20, in her own “two-for-one bonus program.” Jurors will see the entire surveillance tape, which Rundle said will show something “mysterious” happen to a red Saks bag that contained a pair of shoes Ryder bought earlier in the day. “You will begin to watch that shopping bag grow and grow,” she said.
Rundle told the jurors Ryder walked out of the doors of the department store with merchandise for which she had not paid. “That is grand theft, no matter who you are,” she said.
Defense attorney Mark Geragos countered that his client was innocent and that Saks security guards changed their stories after prosecutors realized that the much-touted surveillance video did not show Ryder snipping off tags. Geragos said all the video shows is Ryder shopping, which caused the district attorney’s office to panic and ask Saks staff to come up with a new story.
“They decided then to invent the story about Ms. Rainey,” Geragos said, warning jurors that the testimony they would hear from Saks personnel would be “bald-faced lies.”
Ryder shops at Saks regularly, spending thousands of dollars every month, and the store had her credit card on file, Geragos said. “This is a case about a woman who has been wronged,” he said.
Geragos also told jurors that Ryder was treated “inexplicably” by Saks staff, who threatened her and tried to lift her shirt.
Geragos objected to Evans’ testimony about Ryder’s alleged admissions, saying the statement about a future film role had never been disclosed prior to the trial. The objection was overruled.
Superior Court Judge Elden S. Fox also held a closed meeting in his chambers Monday morning with Ryder, attorneys on both sides and a juror, former film studio head Peter Guber.
On Friday, Guber told the judge that Sony Pictures Entertainment produced one of Ryder’s films while he headed the studio. The Times reported Saturday that the studio oversaw the production of three of her films.
The news of Guber’s selection for the jury astonished many in the Hollywood creative community. A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office declined to comment on why prosecutors chose to impanel Guber. Defense attorney Geragos said it wasn’t a problem for prosecutors, and it wasn’t a problem for him.
Mark Gill, a producer who had worked in marketing during Guber’s reign at Sony, said, “If the prosecutors had known everything that those of us [in the entertainment industry] know about not only their history but relationships in Hollywood, it wouldn’t have happened. It shows how divergent the universes are.”
Tom Pollock, the former studio chief of Universal Pictures and a former top Hollywood attorney, said, “He’s done three movies with her and he could have a relationship with her going forward, so it’s very strange that he was chosen.”
Mike Medavoy, former studio chief at TriStar Pictures who worked under Guber, said he was surprised, but was confident that Guber would “judge it based on the facts presented.”
On Monday, The Times, along with the Associated Press and the Daily Journal, filed a writ with the state Court of Appeal, requesting that transcripts of closed proceedings held last week by Judge Fox be made public.
Times staff writer Anita M. Busch contributed to this report.