Doris Payne

Doris Marie Payne, 83, talks to her attorney at her arraignment in Indio at a November hearing. Payne, a convicted jewel thief, has pleaded not guilty. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / November 5, 2013)

INDIO -- Doris Payne, the 83-year-old career jewelry thief whose worldwide exploits have grabbed international headlines, was ordered to stand trial Wednesday in her most recent case out of Riverside County.

Payne has been charged with second-degree burglary and grand theft after allegedly stealing a diamond-encrusted ring from a Palm Desert jewelry store Oct. 21. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Richard A. Erwood ordered Payne back in court Dec. 26, and denied her attorneys' request to release her from custody. In his decision to keep Payne in custody in lieu of $65,000 bail, the judge noted the 83-year-old had listed her occupation on court papers as "jewelry thief" — which she had done in at least one prior arrest.

Payne’s attorney, Gretchen von Helms, said although she respected the judge’s decision, she was disappointed.

“It’s not whether or not she’s guilty, it’s whether you’ll come back and face the music,” Von Helms said. “And Doris has a long history of coming back to face the music.”

Payne — dressed in a blue jail-issued jumpsuit, with her ankles cuffed and her hands chained to her waist — sat quietly during the morning preliminary hearing, occasionally whispering to her attorney or looking at papers.

Store manager Raju Mehta testified it was Payne who walked into El Paseo Jewelers the morning of Oct. 21 and said she wanted to buy a necklace with a $42,000 insurance check. The woman tried on a few pieces, Mehta said, before leaving the store.

Payne returned shortly after, he testified, and said she wanted to buy a necklace, earrings and a ring for her pinkie finger. Mehta said he helped the woman try on a few pieces, then moved her to a seat at a ring display case after she complained her hip hurt.

The woman tried on several pieces -- including a diamond-and-white-gold ring valued at $22,500 -- and said she would return the next morning to purchase three items, Mehta said.

That evening, he testified, he was notified by his store employees that the $22,500 ring was missing.

Jodi Clapinski, who works as a sales associate at the jewelry store, testified she realized something was amiss when she noticed a display finger in the case was bare.

"We were missing a ring," she said.

Mehta and Clapinski both said they didn’t see Payne take the ring. Other customers were in the store after she left, Clapinski said.

Later that day, Payne walked into The Exchange, a second-hand dealer located not far from the jewelry store, testified Michael Jacobs, whose wife owns the shop. 

"She had a ring that she wanted to sell," Jacobs said.

Jacobs said Payne originally asked $1,000 for the diamond ring, a price he said he "wasn't comfortable" offering after examining the quality of the piece. He said it measured as a different carat than she claimed, and the center diamond had "some imperfections." He offered her $800 instead.

Payne agreed to the deal, Jacobs testified, and followed store protocol by signing and putting her thumbprint on a form required for sales. A copy of that form goes to police, Jacobs said, to report what items the store purchases.

Authorities came to the store “shortly” after Oct. 21 to ask about the ring, Jacobs said.

Despite Payne’s notoriety, the witnesses said they didn’t recognize the woman who walked into their stores. It wasn’t until later, they said, that they learned who she was.

Authorities say the employees at El Paseo jewelers are the latest in a long line of unsuspecting victims duped by Payne, whose arrest record spans the United States. Payne has also been credited with stealing expensive diamonds in Paris, Milan, London and Tokyo.

A byproduct of her unwavering devotion to thievery is a notoriety that now borders on fame. She has long been known to law enforcement, has been featured on TV, in newspapers and had her story told in a documentary, "The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne." There has been talk of Halle Berry starring in a movie about her life.

Her most recent conviction came in 2011 for stealing a ring in San Diego and another in Santa Monica. She was released from prison this summer, roughly three months before her latest arrest.

Her attorneys in the Riverside County case said they hope jurors judge Payne on the matter at hand, not her past.

“I hope the jury will also be fair,” Von Helms said after Wednesday’s hearing. “The evidence has to stand alone.”

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