HOUSTON (AP) — A Tejano singer who was convicted of raping an underage female relative and imprisoned for more than a decade is preparing to relaunch his career with a sold-out show in Houston, despite the original terms of his release barring him from visiting the city and surrounding county because the victim lives there.
Jose “Joe” Lopez, 69, served 12 years of his 20-year-sentence for raping his then-13-year-old niece in 2004 in Rancho Viejo, a small town outside Brownsville. He was released in March 2018 under several conditions, including that he register as a sex offender and that he not visit Harris County, which is where his niece lives. Lopez has maintained his innocence.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles decided last week to allow Lopez to enter the county “solely for employment purposes,” according to the board’s spokesman, Raymond Estrada.
“In making the decision, the parole panel reviewed his satisfactory compliance with parole since his release date of March 2018,” Estrada said. “Additionally, the board recognizes the importance of employment as being a critical component to successful reentry for offenders, and if public safety is not compromised, we support such initiatives.”
Public safety advocates have criticized the move.
Andy Kahan, a victims advocate at Crime Stoppers of Houston who says he has been a supporter of Lopez’s victim for years, described the board’s decision as a “slap in the face.”
“I can’t fathom their rationale for allowing this to happen,” he said. “How can I in good conscience now tell victims we can get that in the conditions of their release when it’s subject to being easily removed and changed?”
Lopez’s manager, Sandra Vallejo, said Lopez is seeking to get exonerated.
“For every one person against him, there are three more who support him,” said Vallejo, who noted that Lopez has been busy rehearsing.
Tejano is a style of dance music that mixes elements of Mexican folk music along with country, jazz and rock music.
Lopez is slated to begin his “Freedom Tour” with his band on Dec. 13 at El Rodeo Disco in Houston. Tickets sold out on Monday, the venue’s Facebook page shows.
“Joe is eager to get back performing because he loves his fans so much,” Lopez’s attorney Allison Clayton said.