A 44-year-old Los Angeles man who claimed to be along for the ride during a deadly crime spree last year targeting convenience stores and fast food restaurants across Southern California pleaded guilty to robbery charges on Monday and was immediately sentenced to seven years in prison.
Jason Payne pleaded guilty to three felony counts of robbery for hold-ups in Santa Ana, La Habra and Brea, as well as a felony count of attempted robbery for another incident in Santa Ana, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
Payne was arrested last year along with his neighbor — 20-year-old Malik Patt — following a string of robberies, killings and attempted killings at 7-Eleven, Subway and donut stores in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Three people were killed during the crime spree, which authorities have said is believed to have encompassed more than a dozen incidents over four separate mornings in July.
Payne — who prosecutors acknowledged did not actually enter of the businesses that were robbed — had faced up to 10 years in prison. He was charged with the robberies under the legal theory that he was aiding and abetting Patt.
Patt — who authorities allege was the shooter and primary robber, and who Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer previously described as a “stone-cold killer” who “executed people” — is being tried separately. He is currently being held without bail.
“Today is an important step in achieving justice for the victims who were terrorized by this reign of terror these two individuals carried out across Southern California,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a prepared statement following Payne’s sentencing. “They targeted vulnerable victims who were hardworking people just trying to make a living or survive on the streets.”
Detectives during a preliminary hearing last year testified that Payne repeatedly denied knowledge of the robberies or the shootings. Patt insisted to investigators that he acted alone, the detectives testified, saying Payne “didn’t have anything to do with it” and adding that Payne “doesn’t condone (expletive) like that.”
Payne told investigators that he operated a delivery service, and said he had Patt drive him around because Payne consumed a significant amount of marijuana and was constantly sleepy. The pair used a black BMW that Payne’s mother had co-signed a loan for, and at one point Payne said Patt returned to the car and said he had been “getting money,” which Payne acknowledged he understood to mean that Patt had pulled a robbery.
The first two armed robberies police have tied to the alleged crime spree were on July 6 at a Subway restaurant El Segundo and a donut store in Whittier. Two days later, on July 8, a subway and two different donut shops were robbed, all in South Gate.
The first killing occurred on July 9, when a homeless man sleeping on a sidewalk was shot in the head following a robbery at a 7-Eleven in North Hills.
The deadliest day began shortly after midnight on July 11, as robberies at 7-Elevens in Ontario and Upland were followed by a customer being shot and seriously injured during a robbery at a 7-Eleven in Riverside.
Later that same morning, the spree moved to Orange County., including attempted robbery at a Santa Ana 7-Eleven that left a customer, 24-year-old Matthew Rule, being shot dead in the parking lot, a robbery at a 7-Eleven in Brea where clerk Matthew Hirsch, 40, was shot and killed, and a robbery at a 7-Eleven in La Habra where a clerk and customer were wounded by gunfire.
Surveillance footage of a black BMW sedan spotted near one of the Santa Ana robberies eventually led investigators to Patt and Payne, according to court filings.
A records check of the license plate number showed the BMW had been purchased a short time earlier by a 77-year-old Los Angeles woman and Patt, her grandson, had been one of the financial references for the car sale. Investigators used a DMV photo of Patt to determine that Patt had some of the same facial characteristics as the masked robber who had been caught on surveillance video during the crime spree.
Looking at cell phone records, investigators determined that Patt had been in communication with Payne repeatedly around the time of the robberies, according to court filings. They also learned that the woman who bought the BMW had listed Payne as a reference as well, describing him as her son.
Authorities have said that Patt and Payne are not directly related, though they lived in the same neighborhood and Patt referred to Payne during police interviews by the affectionate term “uncle.”
Detectives have testified that while conducting surveillance of the pair after the robberies and shootings, they saw them attempt to buy ammunition for a 9-mm handgun at a sporting good store in Inglewood. Patt was speaking to a clerk — who told him they needed some documentation to complete the purchase — while Payne was at the other end of the counter, an investigator testified.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has taken the lead in prosecuting the three slayings, including the one that occurred in Los Angeles County, under the legal theory that they were all part of one series of killings.
Patt is facing three counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, three counts of robbery and a count of carjacking while armed. Orange County prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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