Call it Prosecution, Interrupted.
Winona Ryder, her attorneys and prosecutors huddled in a Beverly Hills courtroom Thursday afternoon, delaying the start of jury selection in her shoplifting trial and causing rise to speculation that a deal was near.
That's how most of Winona Trial Day 1 played out. Ryder and pals behind closed doors. Everybody else trying to figure out what was going on.
This much we know: Around 1:30 p.m., Ryder was whisked, via a black Jeep Grand Cherokee, past a stakeout of TV cameras and into the underground courthouse parking garage, setting the (understated) tone for the day. As one reporter noted plaintively, "Hey, guys, that was her..."
Put another way, if Thursday was the start (and possibly end) of the celebrity trial of the century, it's going to be a pretty quiet next 98 years.
Sure, the press was well represented--dozens of newspaper, TV and otherwise reporters, plenty of photographers, some more restless than others. ("Fucking waste of time," one shutterbug griped after trying to capture a fleeting Winona moment as she passed through the courthouse metal detectors. And, no, Miss Ryder didn't cause any metal-detector beeping.)
But if the media army was out in force, the media circus stayed home. No hot-dog vendors. No circling news choppers. No "Free Winona" protestors.
There was, however, Billy T.
Billy T is the Los Angeles shop owner formally known as Billy Tsangares who launched a thousand (or more) "Free Winona" T-shirts. (Ryder modeled one of his creations for June's W magazine.)
Mr. T was one of about half-dozen mild-mannered civilians (neither member of the press, nor potential juror) who stood outside Judge Elden S. Fox's third-floor courtroom hoping to secure a seat inside. He wore his heart on his side, in the form of a "Free Winona" tote bag slung over his shoulder.
"It should never have gotten to this point," Billy T said, accusing prosecutors of overkill in the Ryder case. "I do think this is extreme, to say the least."
(Ryder faces charges of felony grand theft, commercial burglary and vandalism stemming from an allegedly unlawful shopping spree at the nearby Saks Fifth Avenue last December 12. She has pleaded innocent to all charges.)
Diana Jimenez, a 23-year-old UCLA student, had no axe to grind--neither passionate about Ryder's defense, nor the district attorney's case. She showed up at the 90210 courtroom to fulfill a classroom assignment.
"I just want to see if I could get in," Jimenez said.
The 30-plus reporters gathered outside Judge Fox's courtroom also wanted to see if they could get in. But there was nothing doing. After Ryder, outfitted in a pink sweater and floral-print skirt, if you must know, walked into the courtroom with her crew, the two sides--defense and prosecution--went straight into judge's chambers. Where they stayed for much of the afternoon. (They were still there after 4:15 p.m., when the judge finally gave the 30 potential jurors their walking papers, ordering them to return Friday at 1:30 p.m. for questioning.)
Outside, reporters were left to their own devices. Always a dangerous thing. The best rumor, overheard on the elevator, was that überproducer Peter Guber (Batman) was one of the prospective Ryder jurors. (A court official could not confirm Guber's presence; his office at Mandalay Pictures said it was believed he was on the location of a television show on Thursday.)
Guber, there or no, didn't miss much. Ryder moved like the wind past prying reporter types, not even pausing to fork over the $5 parking fee on her way into the courthouse lot. But no scandal there. Garage attendant Manuel Dominguez said he knew Ryder's vehicle (she sat in the backseat) was going to drive right on in.
"They pay later," Dominguez said. "Actually, her attorney will pay."