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James Crawford in the Orange County Register

D.A. doubts wrong-man defense
Courts Convicted robber's claims are called `groundless.'


Byline: JOHN MCDONALD   
                                                       

George Arnulfo Lopez failed to show he deserves a new trial on his robbery conviction last year because his contention that another man committed the crime is groundless, a prosecutor said Friday in court papers.


The conviction of Lopez, 18, of Garden Grove, was based on sufficient evidence that is not diminished by defense claims, said Deputy District Attorney Brian Gurwitz.


Lopez claims his trial lawyer was incompetent for failing to use two eyewitnesses who doubted his guilt. He also contends that an old friend -- and current cellblock neighbor -- told a newspaper reporter that he will accept responsibility for the crime if he gets a sentencing break.


Gurwitz said in his papers that the defense lawyer's tactics were guided by a desire to keep the jury from seeing more of sympathetic robbery victims.
Two employees of Commercial Credit Corp. of Anaheim said after testifying at Lopez's trial that Lopez could not have been one of the holdup men. Neither had identified Lopez at the trial. A third witness identified Lopez but a year later said he was unsure Lopez was the robber.


Johnny Manuel Santacruz, Lopez's friend and cellblock neighbor, said in a sworn statement in June that he had information to exonerate Lopez. He expanded on his statements in the newspaper interview earlier this month but said he would only admit his part in the crime if he gets a plea bargain.
Gurwitz said Santacruz refused to talk to two district attorney investigators.
A hearing on Lopez's request for a new trial is scheduled for Sept. 7.

-- John McDonald
(714) 796-6743

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