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James Crawford in the Orange County Register

Inmate says he can clear convict
Law Man demands immunity from further prosecution before testifying;
prosecutor doubts validity of his story.


Byline: JEFF COLLINS   

A prison inmate has issued sworn statements saying he has information that would exonerate a Garden Grove youth he says was wrongfully convicted of a 1999 armed robbery.

But Johnny Manuel Santacruz said he won't testify about the information unless he's granted immunity from further prosecution.

The statements filed on behalf of George Arnulfo Lopez, 19, stop short of taking responsibility for the May 17, 1999, robbery of Commercial Credit Corp. of Anaheim.

But Jim Crawford, Lopez's lawyer, believes the statements imply that Santacruz committed the crime himself.

``George Lopez is innocent and was wrongfully convicted,'' Santacruz wrote in statements filed with the 4th District Court of Appeal. ``The DA has made a big mistake.''

Lopez is serving a 13-year sentence for the robbery and a hearing on his appeal has been set for July.

He was arrested four days after the holdup, along with Chad Long, another youth who pleaded guilty in February, saying that he ``conspired with George Lopez and others to rob Commercial Credit.''

Santacruz was arrested along with Lopez and Long, and the sawed-off shotgun Lopez was charged with using in the holdup was found in the car in which the three had been riding.

In his statements, Santacruz said that he possessed a sawed-off shotgun and black jacket similar to those used in the Commercial Credit holdup. Santacruz said that he used the weapon and jacket in three other robberies on May 18 and 19 of that year.

Crawford said the statements bolster a case in which two witnesses have said that Lopez was innocent and a third expressed doubts that he was the robber.
``If Johnny Santacruz pled guilty to three identical robberies... and he's coming forward saying he has information about the (Commercial Credit) robbery, I think that's significant,'' Crawford said.


But Deputy Attorney General Laura Halgren, who is fighting Lopez's appeal, argued that a convicted inmate would have nothing to lose taking credit for a crime under immunity.

``Under these circumstances, after he's pled out and gone to prison, whatever he would say would be difficult to believe,'' Halgren said.
Halgren added that one witness testified during Lopez' trial that Santacruz definitely didn't commit the Commercial Credit robbery.

Contact Collins at (714) 796-7734 or jcollins@ocregister.com


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