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James Crawford in the Orange County Register

Teen stays in prison, pending hearing
Courts Judge says a newspaper report of another man admitting to robbery
doesn't justify release yet.


Byline:GREG HARDESTY   

A judge Friday kept a teen-ager behind bars, delaying for a month a hearing on whether he should be freed on bail in the wake of revelations that he may not have robbed an Anaheim loan office in May 1999.

Saying it would be premature to release George Arnulfo Lopez, 18, from Ironwood State Prison in Blythe, Orange County Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Didier gave prosectors more time to investigate statements by fellow inmate Johnny SantaCruz, 18, that he, not Lopez, was the robber.

SantaCruz's statements were published Sunday in the Los Angeles Times, but that account alone is not the ``proper basis'' for freeing Lopez now, Didier said.
As lawyers hashed out the legal issues, a man with some knowledge of the potential for mistakes in the justice system showed up to support Lopez, who was not at the hearing in Santa Ana.

DeWayne McKinney, 41, was freed from prison in January 2000 after serving 19 years for a crime he didn't commit.

McKinney was serving a life sentence in the 1980 murder of a Burger King employee, but was released after an Orange County Register reporter and a defense attorney unearthed claims by another inmate that McKinney was innocent.

``I know what (Lopez and his family) are going through, and it's a very difficult time for them,'' said McKinney, now working at the University of California, Irvine.
``The only thing they can do is put their trust and faith in God,'' he added.
Lopez, of Garden Grove, is serving a 13-year sentence, but his attorneys have appealed.

In trying to free Lopez, defense lawyers have cited several changing eyewitness accounts of the crime.
For example, a key witness has said he erroneously identified Lopez as the shotgun-wielding man who held up City Financial Corp.'s Lincoln Avenue office.
And two other employees said Lopez was not the robber because his physical description doesn't match that of the perpetrator.
Prosecutors have until Aug. 17 to file a motion explaining why Lopez's conviction was sound.

Defense attorney James Crawford's bail motion will be heard Sept. 7.
``He doesn't belong there ... he should not stay there another day,'' Crawford told Didier.
Said the judge: ``You're asking the court to make findings on issues that haven't been (resolved).''


Contact Hardesty at (714) 834-3773 or ghardesty@ocregister com

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