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Equal Justice? By: Tammy Bruce
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, September 24, 2002


A trial date of October 7, 2002 has been set for Winona Ryder. That's right — the Los Angeles District Attorney is going to actually put Ryder on trial for allegedly shoplifting after closed-door plea bargain talks collapsed. Aside from the fact that there are certainly better ways to spend tax payer dollars, there also seems to be something a bit more sinister at work here.

I'm a law and order girl. I like police and prosecutors. I think bad guys should be arrested and prosecuted, found guilty and put in jail. Which is why Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley is confusing me. I want to know why he is treating Los Angeles' Cardinal Roger Mahony with kid gloves when it comes to child sexual abuse issues while charging Winona Ryder like she's the Hillside Stranger.

Cardinal Mahony, if you don't know, is accused by some of protecting or moving around sexually abusive priests. Recent news reports reveal he and the Los Angeles Archdiocese have even been served with a RICO lawsuit on behalf of an altar boy molested by a Father Baker, a priest Mahony knew was an abuser. One paper reported, "the cardinal wrote a letter to his "brother priests" apologizing for his knowing about Baker (since 1986) and for doing nothing to stop him from exploiting the Catholic faithful."

The people with SNAP (Survivors of Those Abused by Priests) are also not amused with Cooley's foot-dragging when it comes to Mahony. Commenting to New Times, a Los Angeles weekly, an official with SNAP fumed: "What are they waiting for?… It's still just talk. It's like a kabuki dance. If Cooley were serious, he'd do a goddamn raid like he'd do with any other criminal — especially any pedophile or any murderer…"

I suppose if Mahony were a famous actress they might have better luck at seeing some action from the DA's office. Winona Ryder has Cooley's full attention. She was arrested earlier this year for allegedly shoplifting some items from the Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills.

Ryder emerged from one court hearing with a broken arm. While the culprit was a bump with a reporter's camera, one easily could have thought it was the kitchen sink having been thrown at her that did the damage. She has been charged with felony grand theft, burglary, vandalism and possession of a controlled substance. The vandalism charge is related to the alleged snipping of tags. Really. She also had a painkiller in her possession that hadn't been prescribed to her. That's like the time I borrowed (okay, she'll never get it back) a valium from a friend of mine when I was having a particularly tough bout of insomnia. Let's get real — perspective here is important.

Ryder has stated repeatedly she's innocent, while her accusers continually point to a grainy store security camera of Ryder in the store — claiming this is proof she's got sticky fingers. Of course, we only view it that way because we've been told it's her shoplifting. Well, of course, it's not. It's simply Winona — in the store.

Let me make something clear-I'm not dismissing the need for shoplifters to be prosecuted, but the way this case is being handled has been absolutely absurd. It's just possible DA Cooley likes nailing people who will get him attention but aren't powerful enough to do him political damage — like Cardinal Roger M. Mahony. Here's something to consider. After Ryder's arrest, the DA's office sent out a press release worthy of Hedda Hopper. It actually includes references to Winona's films to make sure reporters know Cooley bagged a real live celebrity. Here's a snippet:

BEVERLY HILLS — Felony charges were filed today against actress Winona Ryder, accused of stealing merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, the District Attorney's office announced today… The actress, star of films such as "Girl Interrupted" and "Little Women," had been scheduled to be arraigned in January …

This type of pandering to the press after someone is arrested is outrageous. One thing it does lend credence to is that Cooley is using Ryder in a sophomoric bid for attention, at the expense of the accused. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I simply expect all of us, celebrity or not, to be treated with equal justice. I'm not even arguing here whether or not Ryder is innocent — what stuns me is the extraordinary hypocrisy and double-standard coming out of the DA's office when it comes to how a case like this is handled.

Cooley's mouthpiece has insisted "This case is being handled just like any other case of its type." Well, not quite. An independent investigation done by the television program "Celebrity Justice" found that Winona is indeed being treated differently from everyone else. They found that court records show there were nearly 5,000 grand theft felony cases filed in Los Angeles County last year. And when "CJ" examined the data, they could find no other accused shoplifter facing as many charges as Winona.

When I first heard how aggressive the DA was being with her, I thought there must be something we didn't know. Maybe she was drowning kittens in the dressing room or threw a puppy off a balcony. Perhaps Winona was the 21st hijacker. But no — there is no secret thing that has made Winona Public Enemy #1. The DA's attitude toward her doesn't just seem inexplicable — it is.

To be honest, I never really paid much attention to Ryder's career. I noticed and gained respect for her when she got involved in the search for Polly Klaas, the little girl who was kidnapped and brutally murdered. She remains a strong supporter in the Polly Klass Foundation. I've liked her ever since. Even if the charges are true, Ryder is hardly someone who deserves to be destroyed for shoplifting, of all things. To give you a little perspective, the man who killed Dominick Dunne's daughter Dominique served two years in prison. Winona faces three if she's convicted.

It's tough sometimes to feel sympathy for a celebrity, but if we allow the DA to treat certain people differently (good or bad) simply because of who they are as opposed to what they've done, then we're all in trouble. The frenzy to persecute this woman exposes a sinister and rather shallow side of the head prosecutor in this city. At this point it seems to me Los Angeles has a DA more concerned with Saks allegedly losing a few blouses than he is about known sexual abuse of children. He has until October 7 to prove me wrong.


Tammy Bruce is a Fox News Channel Contributor and author of The Death of Right and Wrong.


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