After a shopping trip on December 12, 2001 the 30-year-old actress was arrested on charges of trying to steal clothes, handbags, and accessories worth about $5,000 from the posh Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beverly Hills. Ryder had caught the attention of security personnel as she went with a pile of clothes into a fitting room and emerging "no longer plainly in possession of items." During body search police men found also some painkillers, one was a morphine derivative.
The following legal proceedings at the County Superior Court in Los Angeles were turbulent. During the hearing in June 2002 her right elbow was struck by camera equipment in a media mêlée. It happened as she squeezed through a sea of reporters to get back into the courthouse after lunch. In this crush, the actress was hit on the arm and a court official was injured in the head.
Later in the courtroom she sat with ice and a large bandage on her right arm, although photos showed her holding her left elbow immediately after the incident. Ryder's attorney, Mark Geragos, took to answer anybody who is skeptical of how seriously she was hurt. He told in "Larry King Live" that the actress fractured her right arm in the elbow area. She broke the same arm while filming the Adam Sandler comedy "Mr. Deeds" about a year ago. "It's a clean fracture, so it looks like it will heal."
Because of that, Ryder's attorney wanted to achieve further postponement in the case. Three days after the incident, he had arrived without his famous client at the next hearing and told that Ms Ryder could not go on. But Judge Elden Fox made clear he would tolerate no more delays in the sixth-month-old case. He ordered the Oscar-nominated actress to court: "I want your client here, so call her." Winona Ryder, appearing pale and nervous, arrived about an hour later, offering no comment to a throng of reporters gathered outside court.
Since her arrest, Ryder made fun of her brush with the law, including an appearance on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," which was promoted with the tag line "She'll steal your heart ... and more." She also donned a "Free Winona" T-shirt on the cover of the July issue of W magazine to make light of her legal woes.
During the hearing an attorney for the Saks store, Kenneth Metzner, delivered an impassioned "victim's impact " statement to the court, blasting Ryder for the T-shirt and for appearing on a TV program after her arrest that made light of the crime. On the other hand he said members of a Saks security team who had the misfortune of apprehending a movie star thief were subjected to humiliating invasions of their private lives. And he added that Saks lost $7 million to shoplifters last year.
Metzner's remarks incensed defending counsel Geragos. He called the store's contention that its reputation was damaged during the case "the height of chutzpah". Geragos claimed Saks turned a profit this year "for the first time in - I don't know how long" as a result of the publicity from the notorious case, which dragged on for nearly a year under an intense glare of publicity.
Because of her celebrity Ryder's attorney accused that prosecutors did not treat her like any other defendant. "They have done everything possible to try to destroy this woman." He reminded the judge that the actress, among other good deeds, had posted a reward in 1993 to find the murderer of a kidnapped 12-year-old girl from Petaluma, California, where Ryder grew up.
Prosecutor Ann Rundle angrily responded that she was offended to hear Geragos "trot out the body of a dead child" for his client's benefit. "I've heard this for over a year," she added. Ryder shot out of her seat, clearly shocked, and glared at the prosecutor. But the judge cut off the discussion and admonished to stick to the shoplifting case.
Videotapes were shown of the actress wandering through the store's designer boutiques and taking a large number of items into dressing rooms. Security personnel testified that after Ryder was caught, she claimed a director had told her to shoplift to prepare for a movie role. The defense said that after Ryder's first purchase, the actress believed the store would keep her account "open" and charge her later. But there was no evidence of an account.
Prosecutor Rundle disclosed that the actress had been involved three times since May 2000 in suspected shoplifting incidents at other posh stores, but was never charged. However those allegations were not accepted in this case.
According to court papers, police found eight prescription drugs in Ryder's possession when she detained at Saks, such as sedatives like Valium and Diazepam and opiates such as Oxycodone. The report revealed the accused also had a syringe in her purse.
"She carryed more medication than would be given to a person with a terminal disease," Rundle said. Geragos responded that Ryder had "a pain-management problem" for some time. An investigation, which the defense unsuccessfully sought to keep sealed, found the actress had received 37 medications from 20 doctors between January 1996 and December 1998.
Judge Eldon Fox, however, dropped the drug charges when the prosecution obtained sworn statement from a party who said Ryder had reason to have the prescription painkillers. Several different doctors had written prescriptions for the drugs made out to different names like her real name Winona Horowitz or the aliases Winona Ryder and Emily Thompson.
In December 2002 the trial ended one year after apprehension. Winona Ryder, who was convicted of stealing more than $5,500 worth of high-fashion merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beverly Hills, made no statement to the court but wore a pained expression.
Superior Court Judge Elden Fox could have sentenced the now 31-year-old actress to imprisonment, instead imposed three years of probation and 480 hours of community service. Further the movie star has to pay more than $6,300 in restitution to Saks for items she damaged when cutting off their sensor tags, plus $3,700 in fines to the court. And, according to the numerous medicaments found, the judge ordered her to undergo psychological and drug counseling because "there's going to be a need for you to confront what I consider aberrant behavior."
Ann Rundle had previously asked for almost the same penalty. The prosecutor sought no jail time because Ryder has no prior convictions.
"It is not my intention to make an example of you," Judge Fox told her. But he added that the actress had "disappointed many people" by the shoplifting and by her refusal to admit guilt.
"If you steal again, you will go to jail. Do you understand that?" he asked.
"Yes, Your Honor, I do," she replied.