A hearing to determine whether jailed Tejano superstar Joe Lopez can access DNA evidence used to convict him inched closer Tuesday morning when the state was granted a motion to regain custody of its evidence.
Judge Oscar X. Garcia, of the 357th state District Court, ruled that the court must turn the evidence over to the state in case a visiting judge rules in a civil case filed by the singer. If so, the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office might be required to share the evidence.
Jose Manuel Lopez, popularly 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 most — after a jury found him guilty of having sexual relations with a 13-year-old relative at his Rancho Viejo condo in 2004.
A forensic scientist in the case testified that DNA found on the girl’s shorts belonged to the Tejano singer. Lopez has maintained his innocence and was not in court Tuesday morning.
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.
Houston lawyer Tim Hootman filed a civil lawsuit in early January in the 445th state District Court on behalf of Lopez against Luis V. Saenz, seeking release of the DNA and other evidence in the case like photographs, DNA testing standards and background information on the people who tested the DNA.
“All I am trying to do is get the DNA so we can have an independent DNA specialist analyze it to figure out if the DNA that was presented previously is reliable,” Hootman told The Brownsville Herald in January. “Once we get that, then we may or may not pursue an appeal.”
Hootman first sought the records via a Texas public information request in late November 2012 while convicted former district attorney and congressional candidate Armando Villalobos was in charge. Villalobos prosecuted the case.
According to that lawsuit, Hootman claims Saenz requested an atorney general’s opinion on whether the District Attorney’s Office could release the evidence, but Saenz’s request was submitted 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.
Hootman also argued that Saenz was trying to withhold the DNA because Lopez was already convicted.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, Saenz is in no way stopping Lopez from retrieving the DNA evidence via other legal procedures.
Visiting judge Federico G. Hinojosa will rule on the matter. Judge Rolando Olvera recused himself from hearing the case because Saenz is the defendant, according to the record.
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, Texas. He is eligible for parole on Oct. 26, 2016. His full prison term would end on Oct. 27, 2026.