Winona, Winona. She sits in the courtroom, a porcelain prisoner of the no-mercy justice of Beverly Hills. One day in a peach-trimmed black knit, the next in a white wing-tip blouse; every day this week in exquisite silence, as if her mere beauty could will away this whole nasty business.
But it can't. Three felonies -- three felonies -- for shoplifting in Saks Fifth Avenue, outside which the actress was stopped with two bulging shopping bags, containing things the store says she hadn't paid for. Twelve jurors, thirty-some journalists and a mutilated Calvin Klein clutch.
In the annals of celebrity crime, rarely has there has been a case with such impeccable designer credentials. Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Frederic Fekkai -- the names are flung about the courtroom with abandon.
Was the Marc Jacobs thermal -- the prosecution first called it a sweater, then later, confusingly, a "top" -- on the list of allegedly stolen goods? Should it have been? (And is it loungewear or daywear?) What ever happened to the white Gucci dress with spaghetti straps? No one knows.
Sure, there have been marquee cases lost by the Los Angeles district attorney -- such as the one against O.J. Simpson. Certainly, there are cases still to be solved -- including the execution of rapper Biggie Smalls.
But the prosecution is determined not to let this one slip through its fingers. The city's attorney has maps, photos, and a closed-circuit security video showing actress Winona Ryder definitely, as far as we can tell, shopping.
Deputy District Attorney Ann Rundle is relentless, laser-like in her pursuit of the facts. "Did you or she select the fitting room," she asks Shirley Warren, Saks sales associate on Level Two's designer sportswear, on the stand. Warren can't remember. "Which fitting room did you direct her to?" Rundle demands. A big one, Warren responds.
And to each witness, Judge Elden Fox intones: "There are a lot of distractions in the room. Don't pay them any attention."
Distractions? Could he mean the 31-year-old defendant herself, star of "Girl, Interrupted," "Edward Scissorhands" and lately (ouch) "Mr. Deeds"? She is seated demurely in the courtroom, her kewpie lips painted crimson, unable to deflect her public humiliation. Or perhaps he means the media horde snuggled up in three rump-bumping rows, everyone from "Entertainment Tonight," "Extra," "Access Hollywood," "Inside Edition," Time, People, the German press agency and the New York Times.
Then again, the judge might be referring to the jury box, which attracts the constant, sidelong glances of everyone in the room. It contains a juror named Peter Guber, a former head of Sony Pictures Entertainment, who has made three movies with the actress ("The Age of Innocence," "Little Women" and "Dracula").
Don't even ask how he got on the panel; by the time the prosecution found out who he was, it was too late. He avoids eye contact with Ryder, but during an aggressive cross-examination of a prosecution witness on Thursday, he could be seen barely suppressing a smile.
It's been nearly a year since security guards confronted Ryder leaving the Saks on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills with two bags full of store merchandise and not nearly enough receipts. Though it would be a first offense, the items totaled more than $5,000, and Saks wasn't willing to handle the matter quietly, as such cases often are.
Likewise, the prosecution has adamantly rejected attempts to plea-bargain the case down to a misdemeanor, with a fine or community service as punishment. The felonies carry the collective penalty of up to three years in prison.
"We are trying to understand it ourselves," says Mara Buxbaum, referring to the hard-line charges. She is Ryder's publicist, more accustomed to bare-fisted negotiations for the cover of W and GQ. "There is literally no other case of shoplifting in Los Angeles being prosecuted like this."
She and others loitering in the courthouse hallway offer different theories for the prosecution's doggedness, though not for the behavior of an actress who makes multi-millions on every film.
Such as: The DA wants to prove that celebrities get equal treatment under the law. Or such as: DA Steve Cooley has a grudge against Ryder's parents, hippie-dippies from Northern California who were close friends with LSD guru Timothy Leary, whom Cooley's FBI-agent father pursued lo many decades ago. (Leary, whose remains were blasted off into space after he died, was Ryder's godfather.)
No one knows, and lawyers aren't talking.
So we are left with the high drama of the courtroom. In four days of testimony the prosecution has presented witnesses, mainly Saks employees, one of whom testified that she looked through the slats of Ryder's dressing room door and saw the actress snipping sensor tags off handbags. Two witnesses have testified that, after Ryder was detained by security, she told them she was preparing for a role in which she was supposed to play a shoplifter.
Saks security officer Colleen Rainey said Ryder told her: " 'I was told I should shoplift. My director said I should try it out. I probably should have notified the store, I'm sorry.' "
Ryder's attorney Mark Geragos attempted to poke holes in this picture, using the report Rainey wrote on Dec. 12, the day of the incident. In that account, she didn't mention that she'd seen Ryder cutting off sensor tags or that the actress said she was shoplifting for a movie role.
Said Geragos: "They decided then to invent the story" about Rainey looking through the slats.
He also tried to show that Rainey had tried to profit from the incident, by opening a "writing service" company which took in $50,000 in the months after the event. Rainey said the company was set up with her husband, a screenwriter. She denied she had profited in any way from selling her story or that she'd embellished her account.
On Friday, things turned worse for the defense. Their main witness, former Saks employee Michael Shoar, testified that a senior Saks security official had told him that he intended to " 'nail that rich Beverly Hills bitch' " for shoplifting and that he would " 'make enough evidence' " to get the charges to stick.
But the prosecutor then revealed that Shoar is suing Saks over an alleged racial slur and is currently banned from its Costa Mesa, Calif., store because of a disturbance he caused there; furthermore, Shoar admitted on the stand to handing out protest leaflets in front of the Beverly Hills Saks two weeks ago.
When Rundle asked Shoar if he was angry with the store, he responded, "No, I am not," causing members of the jury and the audience to chuckle.
Among the items Saks found in Ryder's bags were a $795 Calvin Klein purse, the $760 Marc Jacobs thermal, a $750 Yves Saint Laurent blouse and a bunch of hair accessories: a $145 Frederic Fekkai hair band, a $120 ponytail holder and a $212 rhinestone bow. There were a couple of gasps in the courtroom as these items were named along with their price tags; who, the spectators wondered, was stealing from whom?
Special correspondent Kimberly Edds contributed to this report.