Judge Doris Payne by evidence, not past, lawyers say

83-year-old pleads not guilty to burglary and grand theft

The 83-year-old woman accused of stealing a $22,500 ring from an El Paseo jewelry store in Palm Desert, pleaded not guilty in court today.

Doris Payne is a notorious jewel thief with a criminal history dating back to 1953.

In a recent documentary about her life Payne is said to be unapologetic about stealing more than two million dollars in jewels over more than 60 years.

When Payne met with her lawyers before her arraignment inside an Indio court room, she had a lot to say. They huddled, and she talked, while the lawyers mostly listened for ten minutes before her arraignment on felony burglary, and grand theft charges.

"She's obviously not happy to be here," Defense Attorney Guadalupe Valencia, said. "She's entered a not guilty plea. We intend on fighting this case, and we believe that she should get out of custody and fight this from the outside."

Payne's attorneys argued she should be released while awaiting trial, but prosecutors successfully argued to uphold bail that was set at $65,000.

Payne's lawyers, Valencia, and Gretchen von Helms also represented her in a state court trial in San Diego three years ago. Payne was convicted of stealing jewelry from a department store counter and served half of a five year sentence, with good behavior.

"She has a history as we indicated to the court of always appearing at her court dates," Valencia said. "During the last case, she was out on bond and she appeared at every single court appearance. There was no problem with her showing up to court."

Payne's attorneys also say she is not a flight risk - and they say - too well known to get into any more trouble if let out of custody.

"People know who she is," Von Helms said. "Everyone calls the police on her, or calls the security department on her."

The prosecution argued Payne has no ties to the Coachella Valley community. She was just released from prison three months ago, and based on her more than 50 year history of theft, they say she poses a flight risk.

Bail will be reviewed again on November 20th, and when the trial begins on December 11th, Payne's lawyers will try to separate her long checkered past of non-violent theft, from the facts of this case; An alleged robbery of an El Paseo jewelry store.

"It's also important to give her the benefit of the doubt," von Helms said. "Some would say, she has such a long record, how is that possible? But, here in America, each person who is accused of a crime enjoys the presumption of innocence. What that means is people should take a step back and say, wait a second I want to see proof of that."

Payne was arrested a week ago in Pomona, where Palm Desert police with the department's Business District Team served an arrest warrant. She had reportedly been living in a Riverside motel since getting out of prison.

Payne was charged on Oct. 24 with grand theft, and prosecutors added the burglary count today.

Her life was chronicled in ``The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne,'' which premiered in April at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto, and there has also been talk of a possible film about her.

Riverside County Sheriff's Deputy Adan Yamaguchi, in a declaration in support of the arrest warrant, described the suspect's alleged mode of operation.

``Payne would typically charm the sales associate and ask to see multiple items at once, causing the sales associate to forget how many items they are showing,'' Yamaguchi wrote.

   On Oct. 21, Payne entered El Paseo Jewelers, introduced herself as ``Audrey'' and was shown around a dozen necklaces, he said. She left without buying anything, returned an hour later and asked to see rings, according to Yamaguchi.

   ``(An employee) showed her numerous diamond rings and several very high-priced rings,'' Yamaguchi wrote.

   She said she'd return the next day with a $12,000 cashier's check from Bank of America to purchase some pieces, and left. The next day, employees told the store's owner a ring was missing, and someone ``remembered last seeing the ring on the female's left pinkie finger,'' Yamaguchi wrote.

   ``Due to the large amount of inventory out on the display case at once and her charming personality, he must have forgotten to retrieve the ring from her before she left,'' the declaration stated.

   Deputies identified the woman as Payne using photos from Saks Fifth Avenue in Palm Desert, where she was seen looking at jewelry on Oct. 18. Store security recognized her ``from the company's run-in with Payne in 2010,'' when she was arrested for theft, according to Yamaguchi.

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