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Citing Inmate's Interview, Lopez Seeks Freedom


Attorneys for a Garden Grove man convicted of robbing a loan office filed court papers Wednesday seeking their client's immediate release from prison, citing a newspaper interview in which another man confessed to the crime.
The request is based on a report in the Los Angeles Times in which a convicted robber claimed that he, not George Lopez, committed the 1999 robbery. The motion calls for Lopez to be freed while the appeal of his conviction is heard.

"There has been a substantial change in circumstances," Lopez's lawyer, James Crawford, wrote in his motion. "The true culprit has all but been handed to the district attorney."

Prosecutors said they likely will oppose Crawford's request, which a judge will consider Friday.
"It would be irresponsible for us to agree to his release before we investigate it," Deputy Dist. Atty. Brian Gurwitz said.
Lopez, 19, was convicted last year of using a shotgun to rob three employees at Commercial Credit Corp. on Lincoln Avenue, even though two victims said they didn't believe he was the gunman.
This week, a gang member convicted of robbing three other Orange County businesses said in a prison interview that he robbed the loan office and that Lopez had no involvement.
"I did it," Johnny SantaCruz said. "I walked by the office. I looked in there. I knew it would be easy."
A state appeals court in June found that Lopez's appeal might have merit and ordered prosecutors to prove why the original conviction should stand. The district attorney's office hasn't decided whether it will oppose a new trial but said they will investigate SantaCruz's statements.
Crawford said that in exchange for Lopez's release from prison, his client would agree to be remain under "house arrest" and be connected to an electronic monitoring device.
SantaCruz has so far refused to cooperate with investigators for the defense, who in recent months questioned him about the heist. But in the interview, SantaCruz said he would plead guilty if he receives a reduced sentence and Lopez is set free.
Last year, SantaCruz pleaded guilty to robbing three businesses in Tustin and Orange. In those crimes, he used a sawed-off shotgun with masking tape wrapped around the barrel, the same type of weapon described by the victims of the loan store robbery.
SantaCruz and Lopez were arrested together four days after the robbery when police searched a car they were traveling in and discovered a gun. But SantaCruz said that day was the first time he had met Lopez and that Lopez didn't know the gun was in the car.


Credit: TIMES STAFF WRITER

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