If a broken-winged Ryder walks, will Hollywood be waiting with open arms?

By Scott Brown and Allison Hope Weiner
Updated June 14, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT
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If they gave out awards for courtroom drama, Winona Ryder’s pretrial hearing would have been an Oscar-worthy scene. At press time, she was scheduled to reappear in court on June 6, but it’s difficult to imagine that encore matching the high jinks of the Monday, June 3, proceedings, a tragicomic masterpiece rife with intrigue, absurdity, and, natch, a killer wardrobe.

The doe-eyed Ryder, 30, who has pleaded not guilty to four felony charges stemming from her December shoplifting arrest, began the day AWOL. As her attorney Mark Geragos argued the prosecution was out to get the actress and should be removed from the case, Los Angeles Judge Elden S. Fox (who’ll rule on the lawyer’s motion later this month) demanded that Geragos produce his client. Ryder arrived and made her way through the press frenzy to a courtroom filled with allegedly filched merchandise — a Marc Jacobs thermal top here, a black Natori handbag there. She took notes as a Saks security chief detailed her wacky shopping spree. The witness said security cameras captured the formerly loot-laden Ryder emerging from a dressing room ”no longer plainly in possession of [all] items.”

Returning to court after lunch, Ryder claimed to have been struck in the arm by a rogue camera. Judge Fox examined the actress and excused her to seek medical attention, ordering journalists to remain seated as she departed. Later, even her injury came under cross-examination: Ryder reps said she had a fractured right elbow — a re-break of the arm she snapped on Sony’s Mr. Deeds set last year. Prosecutors wondered publicly why she’d been seen cradling her left arm after the collision. Geragos told EW she was holding her left arm to ”elevate” her right elbow. ”They insinuated she was somehow faking an injury,” he seethed. ”They know that wasn’t the case.” (The arm is now in a splint.)

The law-and-disorder nature of Ryder’s courtroom appearance seems to dovetail with the actress’ overall campaign to deal with her shopping misadventure. She appeared in a ”Free Winona” T-shirt on the June cover of W magazine; hosted Saturday Night Live May 18, joking that SNL cast members feared pickpocketing; and hammed it up June 1 on the MTV Movie Awards with Mr. Deeds costar Adam Sandler. Ryder’s attorneys aren’t discouraging the levity. ”She was good, wasn’t she?” said co-defender Shepard Kopp of the SNL gig. ”Pretty good imitation of Bjork.”

Pretty good spin, too, says crisis management guru Allan Mayer, who handled Halle Berry’s hit-and-run case and Paula Poundstone’s child endangerment charges: ”It’s not enough for a celebrity to actually be innocent. The public expects them to be on the rooftops proclaiming their innocence.” But one celeb defense lawyer worries the PR campaign could jeopardize her case: ”The possibility of things going wrong is so high when a client is talking to Barbara Walters or appearing on SNL.” And a lot could go wrong. If convicted of the charges — grand theft, burglary, vandalism, and possession of a controlled substance — Ryder could face more than three years’ jail time, though it’s unlikely a first offender would be punished so severely.

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