Joe Lopez loses appeal to overturn sex assault conviction - Valley Morning Star : Local News

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Joe Lopez loses appeal to overturn sex assault conviction

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Posted: Saturday, May 16, 2009 12:00 am

BROWNSVILLE - Tejano artist Joe Lopez lost his appeal before the 13th Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn his 2006 conviction on aggravated sexual assault charges of a child.

The Appeals Court this past week issued a ruling that said it agreed with a Cameron County jury's decision, which found the Tejano singer guilty for the sexual assault of a female relative at his Rancho Viejo condo in April 2004.

Lopez, 58, co-founded Grupo Mazz in the 1970s and became the group's 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 In his appeal, Lopez contended that the evidence was "factually" insufficient to support his conviction, and that the trial court abused its position by not granting a motion for a mistrial because of mid-trial publicity.

In the factual insufficiency motion, Lopez claimed that the victim's testimony was not credible because she tried to collect $35 million from him in exchange for her dropping the charges.

The mid-trial publicity claim pertains to a commercial David Dewhurst, a candidate for lieutenant governor, ran that supported Jessica's Law that imposed mandatory 25-year prison terms for convicted child molesters. Lopez said the commercial ran on a local television station during the same week of his October 2006 trial.

The 13th Court of Criminal Appeals ruled against both of Lopez's arguments. The court's decision comes more than two years after Lopez filed his appeal.

"We were fairly certain that the defendant's appeal would be denied," said Cameron County District Attorney Armando R. Villalobos in a written statement. "We tried a strong case, presented overwhelmingly evidence, and gave the defendant a fair trial."~

"We were certain of his guilt then and we are certain of his guilt now," said Villalobos.

Lopez was convicted on two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child and one count of indecency with a child in October 2006. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison, but because he serves the sentences concurrently rather than consecutively, his punishment amounts to 20 years.

Brownsville attorney Michael Young, who defended Lopez during his trial, said although he was disappointed by the court's decision, he accepted it.

"I'm very disappointed that Joe Lopez is not going to get another trial," Young said. "My best wishes go out to the family."

Young added that he was surprised the conviction was not overturned, given the fact that during closing arguments in the Lopez trial state prosecutors questioned why Lopez didn't take the stand in his own defense.

"I remember the prosecutor saying it was a shame that the victim had to testify and not the defendant," Young said.

Because of family problems at her home 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.

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

A forensic scientist testified that DNA found on the girl's shorts belonged to the Tejano singer.

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

Lopez has the option of filing a Petition for Discretionary Review to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to seek a new trial, attorneys said.

Lopez was scheduled for trial on Aug. 28, 2006, 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 and the Cameron County District Attorney's Office were released to the media and that he received death threats.

He hired Young and Micheal Trejo a couple of days later.

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 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.

Lopez remains incarcerated at the Ramsey Unit in Rosharon, Texas. He won't be available for parole until Oct. 26, 2016. His projected

release date is Oct. 27, 2026.

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