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April 29, 2014

Doris Payne likes to take gems that aren't hers, and she's proud of it; she once listed "jewel thief" as her occupation in court papers. On Monday, the 83-year-old, who has a rap sheet that dates back to 1952, pleaded guilty to stealing a $22,500 diamond ring from a ritzy Palm Springs, California, jewelry store.

Payne was sentenced to four years in custody — two under mandatory supervision and two in county jail. She must also stay away from all jewelry stores. Payne's lawyer, Gretchen von Helms, says she thinks that was fair. "The judge tempered punishment with compassion about her age," she told the Los Angeles Times. "He took into account the taxpayers' pocketbook. And do we really need to incarcerate a nonviolent offender — yes, a repeated offender, that's true — who's ill, who has emphysema, who's elderly?"

Payne is known around the world for her exploits, and for being unapologetic about her crimes. She's been the subject of a documentary (watch the trailer below), and rumors are spreading that Halle Barry will portray her in a movie. In her latest caper, Payne visited El Paseo Jewelers twice last October, telling employees that she had a $42,000 insurance check to spend. She selected three items to purchase, and promised to return the next day with the money. That night, employees realized the ring was gone, and by that point Payne had already hocked it for $800 at a pawn shop.

Von Helms is hopeful that her octogenarian client has finally learned her lesson this time, since Payne did help authorities track down the ring and promised to pay the pawn shop back. "I think she has good intentions," the lawyer said. "I know we have to take that with a grain of salt, given her history. She can't just say those words; she has to prove it with actions." --Catherine Garcia

1:54 p.m. ET
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Starwatchers are saying that this year's Orionid meteor shower, which will be at peak visibility this weekend, is set to be particularly dazzling because it'll coincide with low levels of moonlight. The Orionids are actually left-behind fragments of Halley's Comet, which won't be visible from Earth until 2061 (its last appearance was in 1986).

Viewers in the eastern and southwestern U.S. will have the clearest skies for meteor-watching; between midnight and dawn is when the meteors will be flying the fastest. EarthSky estimates that people living in places with low light pollution could see up to 10 to 15 meteors per hour, as the Orionid meteor shower is one of the fastest and brightest we can see from Earth because its trajectory hits the planet almost head-on. Fortunately for us, the meteors are small enough that they burn up in Earth's atmosphere before they can make contact with ground. The Week Staff

1:42 p.m. ET
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A Mississippi school district has removed Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird from its eighth-grade curriculum because it "makes people uncomfortable." The book is a harrowing tale of racial injustice in a 1950's Southern town. James LaRue of the American Library Association objected to the removal, saying that the "classic" novel "makes us uncomfortable because it talks about things that matter." The Week Staff

12:57 p.m. ET
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A recently concluded study by the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C., as well as government task force Lab @ DC found that the use of body-worn cameras by police officers had no significant effect on use of force, NPR reports. Body cameras similarly had little impact on the occurrence of citizen complaints. The results are a disappointment to both law enforcement and community activists who were hopeful that the technology would help increase police accountability and transparency.

Lab @ DC, a group within D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D)'s administration that uses science to shape policy, partnered with the MPD to randomly assign cameras to about 2,600 officers, allowing rigorous comparison between those with cameras and those without. The study — the most robust and long-running on the subject to date — found that there was no indication that officers outfitted with cameras acted any differently, used less force, or received fewer citizen complaints.

The news doesn't come as a surprise to everyone; technology and social justice experts like Harlan Yu point out that most footage of violent police encounters comes from bystanders' cell phones anyway. An officer-worn body camera could thus be redundant in the age of smartphones and connectivity. However, Metropolitan Chief of Police Peter Newsham says that D.C.'s body cameras aren't going anywhere for now: "I think it's really important for legitimacy for the police department when we say something, to be able to back it up with a real-world view that others can see." The Week Staff

12:35 p.m. ET
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Video of a 2015 speech by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), published Friday by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, apparently proves that comments she made at the dedication of an FBI building did not match White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's portrayal of them when he criticized the congresswoman Thursday. In addition to skewering Wilson for sharing the details of a phone call between President Trump and the widow of a U.S. service member killed in Niger, Kelly claimed Wilson once "talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for" a Florida FBI building and that she told the audience in 2015 that she "just called up President [Barack] Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building, and she sat down."

Wilson disputed Kelly's characterization: "He shouldn't be able to just say that, that is terrible," she told the Miami Herald. "This has become totally personal."

Video published Friday by the South Florida Sun Sentinel apparently shows that Wilson did not in fact claim credit for getting the money for the building, but did take credit for naming the building. "Everyone said, 'That's impossible, it takes at least eight months to a year to complete the process through the House, the Senate, and the president's office,'" Wilson recalls in the video. "I said, 'I'm a school principal.' I said, excuse my French, 'Oh hell no, we're going to get this done.'"

Wilson did in fact sponsor legislation, signed three days before the 2015 ceremony, to name the building after Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, two FBI agents killed in a shootout near Miami in 1986. The White House stood by Kelly's characterization following the new video: "If you're able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes about yourself, you're an empty barrel," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. Watch the video at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Jeva Lange

12:11 p.m. ET

Dickinson, Texas, a suburb about 30 miles away from Houston, is requiring that applicants for relief funds in the wake of Hurricane Harvey pledge not to boycott Israel, The Washington Post reports. The application document reads: "By executing this agreement below, the applicant verifies that the applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this agreement."

Hurricane Harvey may have hit Dickinson harder than any other Texas city, local press and law enforcement suggest, with severe flooding and winds resulting in upwards of 7,000 homes damaged. It was in Dickinson that the viral photo of elderly patients in a nursing home trapped in waist-high water was taken.

The American Civil Liberties Union has called the requirement a violation of the First Amendment, and ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura points out that "the government cannot condition hurricane relief or any other public benefit on a commitment to refrain from protected political expression." Dickinson city attorney David W. Olson said that he was only following the statewide Anti-BDS law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) earlier this year, which "prohibits all state agencies from contracting with, and certain public funds from investing in, companies that boycott Israel." There is no clarification of the law's application to individuals.

Watch local news coverage of the discovery below. The Week Staff

12:03 p.m. ET
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Your puppy isn't looking at you lovingly just because he wants a treat. Scientists in Britain found that dogs alter their facial expressions simply when their owners look at them — regardless of whether food is available, per a study published Oct. 19 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Researchers monitored the facial expressions of dogs as their owners paid attention to them and then when the owners looked away, specifically examining the muscle that dogs use to raise their eyebrows and widen their eyes. This adorable mug is what people refer to as the "puppy dog" look.

Sometimes, the owners would hold food while trying to get the dog's attention, but the scientists found that while the pups expressed more interest when their owners paid attention to them, it didn't matter whether their owners were clutching treats or not. "This is a delightful finding that provides more evidence of how dogs draw us closer to them with their eyes," Dr. Brian Hare, a professor at Duke University studying canine cognition, told The New York Times in an email.

Researchers cannot know why dogs alter their facial expressions when looking at their owner, but they can determine that the look is independent of treats. So fret not: When Spike pulls those adorable pleading eyes, it's for you — not the rawhide bone in your hand. Elianna Spitzer

11:23 a.m. ET
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An aerosol can and a lithium-ion powered laptop could spell destruction for an airplane, The Associated Press reported Friday, citing a U.S. government report recently filed with the U.N. If a large lithium-ion battery powered device overheats near an aerosol can in a piece of checked luggage, the Federal Aviation Administration warned, an entire airplane could become engulfed in flames before in-flight staff could do anything to stop it.

The FAA placed an 8-ounce can of dry shampoo near a laptop with a lithium-ion battery and forced the laptop to overheat. In less than 40 seconds, the aerosol can exploded, a blast that could disable a fire suppression system aboard a plane. The FAA tried the same test with nail polish remover, hand sanitizer, and rubbing alcohol, and each of those tests resulted in large fires — which could burn hot enough to cause aircraft aluminum to reach its melting point — but no explosions.

After 10 tests, the FAA sent the report to the U.N.'s aviation authority, the International Civil Aviation Organization. That organization recommends aviation safety measures, but cannot force countries to adhere to them.

The FAA paper asks that airlines require passengers to get permission to pack lithium-ion battery-powered large devices in checked luggage. The report does not state whether any domestic rules about checked luggage will be altered as a result of the findings. Elianna Spitzer

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