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Texas candy-bar thief gets 16 years

TYLER, Texas, April 7 -- A Texas prosecutor is defending his aggressive handling of the case against a man who was sentenced by a jury to 16 years in prison for stealing a $1 Snickers candy bar from a grocery.

Smith County District Attorney Jack Skeen says he bumped the theft charge against Kenneth Payne, 29, to a felony because of his 10-year record of 10 convictions, including theft, assault and possession of drugs.

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One of the convictions was for stealing a bag of Oreo cookies.

"I don't have any second thoughts about the prosecution of the defendant considering the number of convictions that he's had," he told The Dallas Morning News.

Reports of the candy-bar sentence have brought phone calls from around the world criticizing Smith County justice, The News reported Friday.

Theft of property under $500 is ordinarily handled as a misdemeanor with a punishment of a $500 fine but no jail time.

Payne's attorney has said she will appeal the sentence.

Payne was on parole for felony theft when he put the Snickers bar down the front of his pants at the grocery store Dec. 17 and refused to give it up when confronted by the store owner.

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Robert Dawson, a law professor at the University of Texas, said the prosecution of Payne as an habitual criminal seemed harsh.

"Most prosecutors have better sense than that," he told The News. "It does say we're willing to spend an incredible amount of money on incredibly petty matters. The theft of a Snickers bar is still the theft of a Snickers bar."

Dawson said it costs $14,000 a year to keep an inmate in prison in Texas, and over 16 years "that probably comes out to about $800 a peanut. That seems a little high."

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