HARLINGEN — The long wait is almost over.
Tomorrow, Tejano star Joe Lopez is expected to walk out of a Huntsville prison after more than 11 years behind bars.
In 2006, a Cameron County jury gave Lopez 32 years in prison for raping his niece Krystal Lopez in 2004, when she was 13.
Lopez, a Grammy-award winning singer and co-founder of Grupo Mazz, was sentenced to 20 years for one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child, eight years for a second count of aggravated sexual assault of a child and four years for indecency with a child.
But because he was serving his sentences simultaneously, he was ordered to serve 20 years in prison.
On Jan. 26, the Texas Pardons and Parole Board granted Lopez, 67, parole after he served a nine-month Sex Offender Treatment Program.
Tomorrow, Lopez is scheduled to walk out of prison between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Robert Hurst, a spokesman with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said yesterday.
But his release is tied to several conditions.
“By no means is he free — he is under state custody,” Andy Kahan, the city of Houston’s victim advocate, said yesterday. “Instead of serving the remainder of his sentence behind bars, he will serve the rest of his sentence in a community.”
Upon his release, Lopez will undergo “supervised parole” through Oct. 31, 2026.
The parole board has ordered Lopez not to contact Krystal Lopez nor enter Harris County, where she lives, without prior approval.
Krystal Lopez, now 27, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
About a year ago, the board’s decision to order Lopez complete the nine-month Sex Offender Treatment Program came after she told the board she opposed her uncle’s parole.
Lopez was also ordered “not to reside with, contact or cause to be contacted any person 17 years of age or younger in person, by telephone, correspondence, video or audio device, third person, media or any electronic means, unless approved by the supervising parole officer.”
The board also ordered Lopez register as a sex offender, have no unsupervised contact with children under 17, undergo a “super-intensive” supervision program and have no Internet access.
Did he do it?
Like many of Lopez’s fans, Bill Habern, his former attorney, has said he believes Lopez will be exonerated.
However, the Sex Offender Program that Lopez underwent requires offenders admit to the crimes for which they were convicted, Hurst said in an earlier interview.
“Since he admitted the offense, I don’t see any grounds for any appeal,” Kahan said.
How we got here
Last year, it appeared the state would release Lopez from prison by last fall.
But in February 2017, the parole board ordered Lopez complete the nine-month Sex Offender Treatment Program after it gave Krystal Lopez an opportunity to make her case against her uncle.
Kahan had requested the state grant Krystal Lopez the hearing because she did not receive the opportunity to make her case before the board voted to grant Lopez’s parole.
At the time, Kahan said she had not registered with the state’s Victim Notification System, which notifies victims of such information as parole hearings.
Krystal Lopez’s information led the board to extend the length of Lopez’s Sex Offender Treatment Program from four to nine months, Kahan said.
No contact with Krystal Lopez
No unapproved contact with persons 17 or younger
Registration as a sex offender
Undergo a “super-intensive” supervision program through October 2026