In the continuing civil case of a jailed Tejano superstar’s request to review DNA evidence used to convict him, a prosecutor with the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office has been deposed.
Jose Manuel Lopez, commonly known as Joe Lopez from Supergrupo Mazz, was convicted in 2006 on two counts of sexual assault of a child and one count of indecency with a child.
He was sentenced to serve 32 years concurrently in prison — he will likely serve 20 at the most — after a jury found him guilty of having sexual relations with a 13-year-old relative at his Rancho Viejo condominium in 2004.
In late June, visiting Senior Judge Federico J. Hinojosa ordered that Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz make available for deposition whoever is most knowledgeable about the timeliness of a request for an attorney general opinion at issue in the case.
Lopez’s defense attorney Tim Hootman said he deposed Matthew M. Kendall, a prosecutor in the DA’s Office, on Aug. 15. A transcript of that deposition is being prepared by a court reporter and will be available in the soon, Hootman said.
According to the lawsuit, Hootman claims Saenz requested an attorney general’s opinion on whether the District Attorney’s Office could release the evidence, but Saenz’s request was made one day too late.
The Attorney General’s Office ruled that while Saenz filed the request a day late, the District Attorney’s Office still didn’t have to release the information because of the Texas Family Code, which restricts the release of certain types of information dealing with juvenile victims of sexual abuse.
“The point of these proceedings, and the future proceedings to come, is to obtain the DNA materials, which were the heart of the DA’s evidence at trial, to have them subjected to impartial and modern DNA testing that did not occur when the trial took place,” Hootman said in an email.
“The DA’s office consistently refuses to have the DNA materials tested even though it is obvious there were problems with the tests performed and the defense lawyers that represented Joe Lopez at trial never had the DNA subjected to independent analysis.”
Saenz said that more than DNA evidence was used to convict Lopez.
“Mr. Hootman conveniently overlooks the fact that the DNA evidence was only some of the evidence presented at trial. We should not overlook the fact that the victim, under oath and subject to cross-examination, testified that Mr. Lopez committed the crime as charged,” Saenz said. “The jury by their verdict of guilty found her testimony to be compelling and credible.”
A forensic scientist in the case testified that DNA found on the girl’s shorts belonged to the Tejano singer.
Hootman first sought the records via a Texas public information request in late November 2012 while convicted former district attorney and one-time congressional candidate Armando Villalobos was in charge of the DA’s Office. Villalobos prosecuted the case.
Hootman said Lopez’s conviction was obtained even though serious questions about the reliability of DNA testing existed.
“If the DA’s Office were truly interested in the truth, it would agree to have the DNA materials tested. The fact that a conviction was obtained in light of the serious questions surrounding the reliability of the DNA materials is a travesty of justice. Re-testing, therefore, is the only fair thing to occur, yet the DA’s Office refuses to do so,” Hootman said. “This is especially true given the massive amount of individuals that have been shown in recent years by re-testing of DNA materials to those who have been wrongfully convicted.”
Saenz said his office is interested in the truth and said Hootman’s statements were self-serving with no foundation.
“Because the DA’s Office is truly interested in the truth, it follows the statutory procedures for the re-testing of DNA evidence. To allow re-testing simply because Lopez’s defense attorneys did not conduct an independent analysis would be unfair to other similar defendants and would show special favorable treatment to defendant Lopez,” Saenz said. “(For Hootman) To state that ‘even though it is obvious that there were problems with the tests performed,’ is a truly self-serving statement with no foundation.”
Lopez appealed his conviction to the 13th Court of Appeals of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, but both courts upheld his conviction.
Lopez, 62, co-founded Grupo Mazz with Jimmy Gonzalez in the 1970s and was lead vocalist, producing several hits and albums. In 1998, he and Gonzalez split and formed separate bands.
The Tejano singer remains jailed at the W.F. Ramsey Unit in Rosharon. He is eligible for parole on Oct. 26, 2016. His full prison term would end on Oct. 27, 2026.
Lopez has maintained his innocence.