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James Crawford in the Orange County Register

Convicted robber wants out of jail during appeal


Attorneys for a Garden Grove man sentenced to 13 years in prison for a May 1999 robbery asked a judge Friday to release him from prison while a higher court decides whether he should receive a new trial.

George Arnulfo Lopez, 18, has remained in Ironwood prison near Blythe since February, after a conviction garnered largely because of the testimony of victim Hector Patino, according to some jurors.

In the months since the case ended, Patino has joined two other Citi Financial employees who say they are uncertain whether Lopez was among two men who robbed them at gunpoint.

All three have furnished statements in support of Lopez's appeal for a new trial -- a process that could take a year or longer. A hearing is set for Jan. 5 to determine whether Lopez should be freed from prison in favor of an electronic-monitoring device while the appeal is heard.

State and local prosecutors oppose Lopez's release.
``This case is on appeal, and we believe that the judicial system should take its course,'' said Tori Richards, spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney's Office. ``As far as we're concerned, there was nothing wrong with the trial, and he received what he should have gotten, which is a guilty verdict by 12 jurors.''

Richards pointed out that Patino picked Lopez several times in police photo lineups and during a live lineup before the trial.

James Crawford, one of the attorneys representing Lopez, wants prosecutors to take a more active role in the case.

``When they take the position that he's guilty, then certainly that relieves them of the obligation to investigate whether someone else might have been involved in the crime,'' Crawford said.

In statements furnished in support of Lopez's appeal, at least two jurors said Patino's testimony was the most compelling factor in their decision to render a guilty verdict.

In a declaration signed April 5, Patino wrote that he could not be sure Lopez was involved ``and that he may not be the actual person who committed the crime,'' echoing his recent comments to reporters.

The other two victims told prosecutors during the trial that Lopez was not involved, but those statements were never presented to the jury.
Ineffective assistance by counsel is among the grounds of Lopez's appeal.

Contact Brown at (714)796-6741 or

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