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Razo Is Found Guilty in String of Robberies : Lies Doomed Defense of Ex-Harvard Man From La Habra

June 10, 1989|BOB SCHWARTZ | Times Staff Writer

Jose Luis Razo Jr., who left a La Habra barrio to become a scholar and athlete at Harvard College, was found guilty Friday of six armed robberies committed during breaks from his studies.

An Orange County Superior Court jury also convicted the former Ivy Leaguer of attempting to escape from police following his arrest in July, 1987, but the jury found Razo not guilty of four other robberies.

The case gained national attention in 1987 because of its baffling complexities: Why would a young man who had battled the ethnic odds and seemed to have such a bright future suddenly become, in the words of his former attorney, "a con . . . an inmate, just another Mexican armed robber?"

In interviews after his arrest--and again during the trial last month--Razo told of how he felt alienated at Harvard and how no one there understood him. He talked about how he delved into the schizophrenic world of PCP to escape the guilt he felt for having left the barrio for the lofty surroundings of Cambridge.

"I'm a homeboy now," Razo said in a July, 1987, jail interview just after his arrest. "At Harvard, I didn't fit. . . . I was confused."

In that interview, Razo said he committed about 15 robberies at stores and fast-food restaurants in Orange and Los Angeles counties, netting about $25,000. "I needed the money, man, and that was a way to get it," he said.

Razo now faces a maximum sentence of 15 years and four months, and probably no less than 4 years, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Ravinder Mehta, the prosecutor on the case. Sentencing and motions for a new trial are scheduled for Aug. 4.

"I'm going to ask for the maximum penalty because all the crimes were extremely aggravated," Mehta said outside the courtroom, adding that he was "pleased" despite the mixed verdict. "I think the jurors did a good job."

Razo, 22, showed no emotion while the verdicts were read in the Santa Ana courtroom. His mother and other family members who attended regularly during the monthlong trial were not present Friday. Two friends who did show up broke into tears and embraced after Razo's bail was revoked and he was remanded to Orange County Jail.

Two Confessions Thrown Out

"I'm shocked," said one of the girls, who declined to give her name but said she is a close family friend. "I know that he's innocent. . . . There is no doubt in my mind."

Of the four counts on which he was acquitted, two of his confessions were thrown out by a judge. In the third, Razo's former roommate testified that he was at Harvard when the crime was committed, and in the fourth, the victim said Razo was not the man who robbed her.

Razo's court-appointed attorney, John D. Barnett, said he intends to raise "substantial" legal and factual issues when he asks for a new trial in August.

"I think the verdict is inconsistent," Barnett said. "You either believe that the confessions are true or not. . . . They acquitted him on counts where there were confessions, and they convicted him on counts where there were confessions."

Jurors agreed that the confession to police was the single most important factor in convicting him on the six robberies.

Way He Confessed

"It was the way he confessed," said juror Susan Kane. "He had such an excellent memory for details. We sat in court for weeks hearing this evidence, and we couldn't remember it all the way he did. He couldn't have that kind of memory in the confession unless he was there."

The confession that Superior Court Judge Jean Rheinheimer allowed to be used as evidence included a robbery of a McDonald's restaurant in La Habra on Feb. 1, 1987 and a Burger King in La Habra on April 5, 1987.

But jurors said testimony by Razo's roommate, Neil Phillips and by Carmen Rodriguez, a former Burger King employee, created enough doubt for the not guilty verdicts on those two counts. Phillips testified that he and Razo played basketball in Cambridge the day of the McDonald's robbery, while Rodriguez testified that Razo was not the man who robbed her.

"We all believed he was probably guilty on all the counts," Kane said. "But we gave him the benefit of the doubt in those counts where there was some question."

Razo's confessions to the two other robberies of which he was acquitted were thrown out by Rheinheimer before the trial because they were made after Razo had requested an attorney but did not immediately get one.

'Too Much Evidence'

The fact that Razo had attended Harvard, juror Dean Montanye said, was "something we considered. I think that none of us wanted to find him guilty. . . . But there was just too much evidence on most of the counts. And we couldn't get his excellent memory out of our minds."

Jurors also said Razo's testimony worked against him once it was clear that he was lying. Razo testified that Richard Longoria, a neighborhood friend, had in fact committed all the robberies, but Longoria's parole officer testified a few days later that he was in prison when three of the crimes were committed.

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