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Woman's Jewelry Heist Case Voided

She was accused of being an accessory in a record- setting S.F. robbery in which her reputed beau, his brother and two other men are suspects.

May 17, 2003|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — A Superior Court judge tossed out a criminal case Friday against Debbie Warner, the alleged girlfriend of one of the notorious brothers wanted in a record-setting San Francisco jewelry heist last month.

Dino and Troy Smith remain at large as suspects in the April 7 robbery of Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry near Union Square. The only break in the case seemed to come with the arrest of Warner, charged with possessing stolen property -- and sapphire earrings from Lang -- and as an accessory after the fact.

While Judge Lucy McCabe declined to hold Warner, 30, over for trial Friday, police and prosecutors revealed much of their evidence against the brothers during the preliminary hearing. That included fingerprints of Troy Smith and a third suspect, George Turner, and a positive identification of Dino Smith by one of the victims.

Arrogant and charming, the brothers are legendary in San Francisco's Hall of Justice for their high-profile trials, filled with dramatic twists. Two cases were overturned by appellate courts, and during deliberations in one case, tens of thousands of dollars in jewelry disappeared from the jury room, never to be recovered.

Throughout Friday's hearing, McCabe, a retired judge who works on an as-needed basis, cracked jokes about the Smiths, who -- in addition to a long string of other burglaries and robberies -- were convicted in the 1990s of a conspiracy to kidnap and rob a flamboyant club owner known as Dr. Winkie.

"Can the earrings be withdrawn and locked up somewhere other than the courtroom?" McCabe quipped before the lunch break.

According to court testimony Friday, Warner -- who is pregnant with Dino's baby -- arranged for a friend named Je Kim to move belongings from Troy Smith's Oakland apartment into Warner's place nearby. As payment, San Francisco Police Inspector Dan Leydon testified, she gave Kim the $4,950 pair of diamond and sapphire earrings -- with the Lang price tag still affixed.

Kim spoke to detectives who interrupted him April 30 as he loaded Troy's Armani suits and other possessions into a black Lexus. He agreed to let them follow him to Warner's home in the hopes that she would lead them to the Smiths, Leydon and Inspector Dan Gardner testified.

According to Leydon, Kim said Warner had agreed to let him keep several Armani suits as payment, in addition to the earrings.

When police later served a search warrant at Warner's home, they found driver's licenses belonging to Dino and Troy, as well as Troy's credit cards and a box of personal letters that Kim had delivered there.

Assistant Dist. Atty. Harry Dorfman argued that the girlfriend's steep payment to Kim for emptying the apartment -- goods valued at about $8,000 -- indicated a knowledge of the crime and an effort to assist the Smiths in evading arrest. Dorfman had also charged Warner with possessing the stolen earrings.

But Friday's testimony was based exclusively on comments made to detectives by Kim, a felon with a long list of convictions for burglary, drug possession and assault. Although he was subpoenaed to testify, he refused to do so without immunity, citing his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

"I have no doubt that she knows the Smith brothers very well and that they're the robbers," Judge McCabe said, "but there's nothing that shows any knowledge of anything on Ms. Warner's part."

Warner's attorney, Peter Goodman, argued that his client, a real estate agent with no criminal record, was more credible than Kim. Warner maintains her innocence.

Outside court Friday, Goodman said be believes police pursued his client "to put pressure on [her] in the hope that she knew something about the robbery. She knows nothing about the robbery. She wants to put this behind her and get on with her life."

Dorfman expressed frustration with the ruling and vowed to pursue further options against Warner. "I disagree," he said. "At the preliminary hearing stage, if one interpretation of the evidence suggests the holding [over for trial], the prosecution is entitled to the holding."

During the robbery, four men tunneled through the wall of an abandoned restaurant into Lang, outsmarted the alarm and, the next morning, forced employees to empty safes of jewelry. The take had initially been valued at $10 million, but an inventory has now pegged it at $6 million -- still far greater than any other in San Francisco history.

Named in arrest warrants are Dino Loren Smith, 44; Troy Devin Smith, 40; and George Turner, 43. A fourth man is also wanted.

According to Friday's stipulation, police recovered finger-prints at Lang and on a newspaper in the vacant Rumpus Restaurant that match those of Troy Smith and Turner. Furthermore, a victim in the case identified Dino Smith as one of the gunmen in a photo lineup, Dorfman told the court.

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