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Suspect Identifies Childhood Friend as Robber

May 24, 1989|BILL BILLITER | Times Staff Writer

Former Harvard University student Jose Razo on Tuesday identified a childhood friend as the real Ski Mask Bandit accused of a string of holdups that Razo is charged with committing while home in Orange County on break.

Razo's revelation, which came as he took the stand for the second day in an attempt to repudiate earlier confessions to the crimes, drew skepticism from the trial prosecutor, who said Razo was doing nothing more than "reaching out and naming a scapegoat."

On Monday, Razo testified that a friend from his hometown of La Habra was the actual criminal, whom police had dubbed the Ski Mask Bandit. Razo refused to name the friend.

But under pressure from Superior Court Judge Jean M. Rheinheimer on Tuesday, Razo relented and said the man is named Richard Longoria, is about 27 years old and lived on Ashley Circle in La Habra.

The prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Ravinder Mehta, said in interviews outside of court that such a person exists and that investigators from the Orange County district attorney's office are trying to locate him. Mehta said that Longoria, if found, may be subpoenaed to testify in Razo's trial, which began May 5.

Mehta emphasized that he does not think Longoria was the real bandit in the nationally publicized case. "Mr. Razo had to name someone, so he just found a scapegoat."

Razo, 22, is the key witness in his own defense. He is charged with 10 armed robberies in Orange and Los Angeles counties between December, 1985, and June, 1987, in which about $27,000 was taken. If convicted of all the counts, the former honor student and star football player from Anaheim's Servite High School could be sentenced to as much as 21 years in prison, according to Mehta.

Razo told the jury in the Santa Ana courtroom Tuesday that he did not commit any of the robberies. He said that Longoria made all the holdups and then told him the exact details. Razo said that he was academically interested in the crimes because he was taking a course at Harvard in 1986-87 entitled "Crime and Human Nature."

According to defense attorney John Barnett, Razo was gathering material in La Habra on why a disproportionate percentage of Latinos become criminals.

"The barrio, in a sense, became his laboratory," Barnett said. The attorney also said Razo was mentally unstable from recent use of the drug PCP (phencyclidine, also known as "angel dust") when he confessed in June, 1987, to the robberies.

In cross-examination by Mehta on Tuesday, Razo described details of armed robberies by the Ski Mask Bandit. Razo said he had learned the details from Longoria, whom he generally referred to only as "the robber."

Mehta asked Razo when he first learned that Longoria was committing armed robberies.

Razo said it was in December, 1985, when he was home from Harvard on Christmas break. Razo said he was in the back yard of his parents' home on Marian Street in La Habra when "this person jumped the fence into the back yard." Razo said the person was Longoria and said Longoria later told him that he had just held up the nearby Driftwood Dairy and escaped with $50.

Razo testified: "He (the alleged bandit) appeared very nervous. He told me to shut up and to help him out." Razo said he then brought the man into his family's house. "He took a ski mask and gun out of his pocket and placed them behind a chair we have in the living room."

Razo testified that he had been mowing his parents' yard when the alleged bandit unexpectedly came to visit. But under further questioning by Mehta, Razo conceded that the Driftwood Dairy robbery actually occurred after dark in the evening. Mehta said he doubted that Razo was mowing the yard in the dark.

"Are you telling the truth?" Mehta asked Razo. "Are you making things up as we go along? Why tell us you were doing yard work if you don't remember it?"

Razo, in response, said that he cannot recall some details of his dealings with "the robber."

But Razo, under questioning, was able to give the prosecutor very specific details of the robberies, noting that he was only repeating information "the robber" had told him.

This is how Razo, on the witness stand, described a 1987 holdup of a Carl's Jr. restaurant in Garden Grove, of which he is accused:

"He (the robber) entered the store. He entered along with a customer and walked so that he was as least visible as possible past the customer into a restroom. After which the customer followed, came into the restroom. He (the robber) believed this man at the time to be an undercover police officer.

"He became frightened and exited the restroom. He hid under a table near the salad bar. Waited there for a period. The customer left. After which he approached the female working in the restaurant at the time. He asked her if she were the manager. He told her to open the safe and asked for all the money. Told the employees to lay on the floor and exited the restaurant."

A former altar boy and model student, Razo became a role model for Latino youths in La Habra, community leaders have said. He had just completed his sophomore year at Harvard when he was arrested in June, 1987. National news media have given wide attention to the case because of the unusual circumstances.

Razo on Monday testified that he had used PCP about 50 times in May and June of 1987 and contended that the drug caused him to have strange thoughts, including the compunction to confess to crimes he did not commit.

Mehta, however, said in interviews outside of court that Razo is simply groping for a defense. "Mr. Razo was the real robber," the prosecutor said.

Mehta is scheduled to continue cross-examining Razo when the trial resumes this morning.

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