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James Crawford in the Orange County Register

18-year-old convict is ordered released
A friend of George Lopez says he committed the robbery for which Lopez,
who has no other record, was imprisoned.


Byline:JOHN McDONALD The Orange County Register   

George Arnulfo Lopez was ordered released from custody Friday by a judge who said he will hold a hearing next month to decide if the Garden Grove man's conviction for robbery was justified.

Lopez, 18, has been serving 13 years at Ironwood State Prison in Blythe for the May 1999 holdup of an Anaheim loan office. But employees present during the robbery say he was not the gunman. Lopez, who has been incarcerated for two years, has no other criminal record.

``It's just a relief,'' said Lopez's wife, Leah, shortly after Judge Daniel Didier announced the decision. ``This is the first good thing that has happened in this case.'' She said she looks forward to her husband returning home and helping her care for their 18-month-old son, Joseph, whom Lopez has seen only in a prison visiting room.

Didier said he was impressed by Lopez's strong family support.
``It's a close call,'' the judge said of his decision to order Lopez temporarily released without having to post bail.

Defense lawyer James Crawford called the decision ``a significant step toward his ultimate release and freedom.'' Didier ruled against Crawford's request that he grant immunity to a friend of Lopez's, now serving a long prison term, who has stated that he, not Lopez, committed the robbery. The friend has said he will only say what his role was if he's given a deal on sentencing.

Deputy District Attorney Brian Gurwitz opposed the release and said later,
``We disagree with the judge's ruling, but we respect it.''
Brent Romney, a criminal-law professor at Western State University of Law in Fullerton, said it is unusual for an inmate to be released without bail while seeking to have a serious felony conviction overturned. ``The judge must consider how likely a person is to flee, and the better his chance for being exonerated at the hearing, the less likelihood that he will flee.''

Contact McDonald at (714) 834-3784 or jmcdonald@ocregister.com

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