80-year-old international jewel thief receives 5-years in state prison

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – An 80-year-old international jewel thief who stole an $8,900 ring from Macy's in Mission Valley last year was sentenced Wednesday to five years in state prison — a term that she pronounced as too harsh.

Doris Payne, who has been to prison twice and has a lengthy criminal record — was convicted last month of burglary and grand theft. She was sentenced to the maximum term by Judge Frank Brown.

“I really don't think you should be that harsh with me,” Payne told the judge. “I am truly sorry that this went on as long as it did.”

But Brown said the upper term was warranted.

“You won't stop. That's the problem here,” the judge said. “She's a thief. She's charming. Santa Claus' wife, that's who she is.”

Defense attorney Gretchen von Helms unsuccessfully argued that Payne be sentenced to three years behind bars, saying her client had serious health problems.

Payne has used 32 aliases, 10 different birth dates, 11 Social Security numbers and nine names on passports, according to a probation report that says she is “quite proud” and “uninhibited and boastful about her criminal career.”

Payne is also pompous and wants a book written and movie made about her life, the report says.

She's apparently going to get her wish. A West Hollywood film crew has been in San Diego filming a documentary about Payne's life, and actress Halle Berry will reportedly play Payne in an upcoming movie.

Payne said she wants proceeds of any film made about her to go to help battered women.

Deputy District Attorney John Pro said Payne had a lifelong career of stealing high-end jewelry after gaining the trust of store clerks.

Payne has spent 35 years being a criminal and “hasn't taken a break,” he said. “She has no regard for authority.”

Deborah Bryce, the Macy's clerk victimized by Payne, spoke at the sentencing hearing, calling the defendant a “psychopath.”

“You view us as pawns in your game of thievery,” Bryce said.

According to published reports, Payne got away with a platinum diamond ring from Cartier in Monte Carlo in 1974. The ring was never recovered.

Payne was convicted in 1999 for stealing a ring from a Neiman Marcus store in Denver and sentenced to 12 years in prison. In 2005, the defendant stole an $8,500 ring in Nevada and a $31,500 ring in Palo Alto, while on parole.

She was in an Orange County jail after pleading guilty to stealing a $1,300 Burberry trench coat from a Saks Fifth Avenue store in Costa Mesa when she was interviewed about the ring theft in San Diego.

Payne is also wanted in Michigan for a retail theft from 1998, according to prosecutors in San Diego.

Pro said Payne walked out of the Macy's store with the ring on Jan. 2, 2010, when Bryce — with whom she had been talking for about 45 minutes — turned her back.

Payne testified that it was indeed her on Macy's surveillance video in the store that day, but claimed the footage had been doctored and said authorities couldn't prove that she stole the ring.

The defendant told a detective that she sold the ring in question for $1,800 to a jeweler she looked up in the phone book, Pro said.

Von Helms told jurors that identifications of Payne by witnesses were tainted because of photos of the defendant they had seen on the Internet.

Von Helms also maintained that the clerk dealing with Payne was distracted by trying to make a sale, and argued there was no evidence that the ring in question ever left the store.

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