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James Crawford in the Orange County Register

Garden Grove mom: Her son innocent, too
CRIME: After a Santa Ana man is cleared of a robbery conviction, another
claim of mistaken identity is brought to light.


Byline: ALDRIN BROWN   

The release from prison of an 18-year-old Santa Ana man who had his robbery conviction overturned after spending two years in prison has buoyed the hopes of a Garden Grove mother who says her son also was wrongfully convicted.
George Arnulfo Lopez has remained at Ironwood prison near the desert community of Blythe since February, when he was sentenced to 13 years for the takeover robbery of an Anaheim commercial loan firm.

Lopez denied involvement in the May 1999 robbery, but jurors were swayed by the testimony of a key witness who identified him in a photo lineup-.
That witness now says he can't be sure Lopez was the man who terrorized employees with a sawed-off shotgun.

On Tuesday, Lopez's mother, Patricia, pointed to the case of Arthur Carmona, who was released from prison Tuesday after eyewitnesses in that case said they were no longer sure Carmona was behind a pair of Orange County robberies.

Patricia Lopez hopes her son will be next.
"We figure that now the public will be interested to know that there are other cases of mistaken identity," she said. "This has given us hope that the truth will come out."

Lopez was convicted of entering Citicq Financial with a sawed-off shotgun, ordering three employees to the floor and robbing the business and its workers.

Days later, Lopez was among three passengers in a car pulled over by police in a mall parking lot. Inside the car, officers found a sawed-off shotgun matching the description of the weapon used in the robbery.
Lopez's fingerprints were not found on the gun.
Hector Patino, one of the three Citi Financial employees, later identified Lopez during police questioning.

But earlier this year, Patino wrote a letter in support of Lopez's appeal, indicating he was not certain of his earlier testimony.
"I was trying to do my best to be honest, but after thinking about it and going over it in my mind, I have my doubts," Patino, 41, said Tuesday. "It happened so fast. I cannot say 100 percent that he was the same guy."
A motion for a retrial in Lopez's case was denied in March.
Officials at the Orange County District Attorney's Office refused to comment on Lopez's case Tuesday, citing a pending state appeal.

"I really don't think there's sufficient evidence to support the conviction," said James Crawford, one of the attorneys representing Lopez in his appeal.
Crawford expects to file arguments in the case next month but questioned why prosecutors have not moved to free the man. "The prosecution is supposed to have the burden beyond a reasonable doubt -- not that he probably did it or might have done it."

abrown@notes.freedom.com Call: (714) 796-6741

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