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Posted: Saturday, October 21, 2006 12:00 am

Tejano singer faces up to life in prison

By LAURA B. MARTINEZ

The Brownsville Herald

October 21, 2006 A jury on Friday found Tejano artist Joe Lopez guilty of raping a 13-year-old girl.

The jury, made up of eight women and four men, deliberated for two hours Thursday and about two hours on Friday before deciding Lopez was guilty of two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child and one count of indecency with a child.

A shocked expression crossed Lopezs face as the verdict was read in the 357th state District Court, while his defense attorney Michael Young continuously shook his head no in apparent disbelief.

Lopez, 56, and a Brownsville native, was accused of raping a relative at his Rancho Viejo home in April 2004.

Other members of the Lopez family, including Lopezs wife Tina and sister Alma, sobbed out loud and continuously repeated the word no after Judge Leonel Alejandro read the verdict before a standing room only courtroom.

Lopezs bond was revoked, and he was immediately taken into custody as he claimed his innocence to the judge and jury while being escorted out of the courtroom.

Im not guilty judge, Joe Lopez told Alejandro as he was escorted out.

Im not guilty, he said as he pointed at the jury while walking past them.

Lopez was taken to the Carrizalez-Rucker Detention Center in Olmito where he would most likely be detained until his Oct. 30 sentencing date.

Lopez co-founded Grupo Mazz in the 1970s and became the groups lead vocalist, producing several hits and albums. He and co-founder Jimmy Gonzalez split in 1998 and formed separate bands, but each managed to keep the name Mazz in some sort of fashion.

He was to have performed Friday night in San Antonio with Gonzalez, sources said.

Lopezs distraught family was escorted out of the courtroom and courthouse, where Tina Lopez fainted outside. She was taken away by ambulance to Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville, where she was later released.

As of Friday afternoon, Lopezs attorneys had not filed any motion requesting a bond hearing for Lopez that would get him out of jail.

Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos said he was obviously pleased with the verdict and said his office would now focus on the sentencing phase.

Lopez could receive anywhere from five to 99 years or life in prison. He also qualifies for probation because he has never been convicted of a felony.

We are seeking a long prison sentence, said Villalobos, who was the lead prosecutor in the case.

Villalobos said his office would also recommend that Lopez receive a high bond if his attorneys seek a bond hearing given Lopezs history of failing to show up in court.

Young did not return repeated calls for comment.

The 13-year-old victim said Lopez had sexual relations with her on April 23, 2004. She said she stayed home from school that day because she felt sick.

Because of family problems in Baytown, the girl was sent to live with her father. She and her father ended up staying with Lopez and his wife for about three months.

A forensic scientist had testified that DNA found on the girls shorts belonged to the Tejano singer.

The defense had said the girl had made up the allegations because she wanted to return to Baytown with her mother.

Lopez was scheduled for trial on Aug. 28, but on that day, he fired his then attorneys Robert Lerma of Brownsville and Bennie E. Ray of Austin because he was upset that a plea agreement between his attorneys at the Cameron County District Attorneys Office had been released to the media and that he had received death threats.

Lopez was remanded to a Cameron County Jail after firing his attorneys.

He hired Young and Micheal Trejo a couple of days later and was released from jail on Aug. 31 after posting a $25,000 bond.

Under the plea agreement, Lopez would have been allowed to plead guilty to a first-degree felony of injury to a child.

He would have also been put on probation for 10 years, undergone six months of intensive supervision, psychological evaluations and random drug testing.

Lopez would have also agreed to spend 120 days in jail and be immediately taken into custody, but he would not have had to register as a sex offender.

lmartinez@brownsvilleherald.com

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