Jewelers, ex-clerk lay claim to booty

The Baltimore Sun

A case that began with a few stolen baubles in a bra has devolved into a year and a half of legal bickering.

At stake are nearly 1,000 pieces of jewelry seized from the home of a National Security Agency employee and part-time jewelry store clerk.

Since August 2005, the prosecution and defense have been fighting over how to prove which of the hundreds of pieces -- many still in their boxes or with sales tags still attached -- belong to the Severn woman and which were stolen.

The two sides can't even agree on what constitutes ownership, prompting Linda A. Kelley last week to ask an Anne Arundel County judge to spell out a system for deciding who gets which gems, or to allow her to withdraw her Alford plea. She has not admitted guilt but has acknowledged that evidence exists to convict her of a felony theft scheme.

The jewelry's value is unclear. It could reach a million dollars, but could be substantially less.

"Her inability to produce documentation is the real reason she wants to withdraw her plea," Warren W. Davis III, assistant state's attorney, said.

Defense lawyer Leo P. Hylan declined to discuss the case, saying, "It wouldn't be fair to my client."

In court documents, Hylan wrote that Kelley is being asked to prove which items she owns. His understanding had been that all jewelry not identified as stolen would be returned to her.

He maintained that the victims -- two jewelry stores where Kelley once worked -- have been unable to demonstrate their ownership of many items -- and multiples of many designs may exist.

Complicating matters is that the jewelers aren't claiming hundreds of items, Hylan said.

Davis wants to see receipts for each item Kelley maintains she bought. He said that a credit card receipt indicates a purchase but not what was bought.

"There is no rational explanation for her behavior," Davis said.

Kelley, 51, has resigned from her job at NSA, he said. A spokeswoman at the agency refused to discuss Kelley's employment.

The saga dates to June 6, 2004, when Kelly was charged with stealing $839.91 worth of bras, panties and nightgowns from the J.C. Penney at Marley Station in Glen Burnie, while on a break from Whitehall Jewelers at the mall. At the police station, a search revealed three rings and a necklace in her bra, according to court documents. She told police that sales workers often put jewelry in their bras while waiting on customers -- a point disputed by the store manager, who contended that Kelley stole the jewelry, valued at $2,205.

A District Court judge placed Kelley on probation before judgment for theft and sentenced her to her three years of probation, plus three weekends in jail.

But Whitehall was missing other jewelry, its managers alleged, sparking another police probe. A search of Kelley's home turned up more than 1,000 pieces of jewelry. She was charged with thefts dating to July 2001 from Barclay and Whitehall jewelry stores.

Police say that seized items whose ownership could not be determined would not end up at a police auction anytime soon; another victim could come forward.

"It would be held as evidence, minimum in a felony conviction for 10 years. Then a determination is made if we want to keep it longer," said Lt. David Waltemeyer, a county police spokesman.

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