Jose Manuel Lopez, better known as Joe Lopez, since January has sought the DNA evidence found on a pair of green shorts worn by the then-minor relative he was convicted of crimes against. Lopez’s attorney wants the evidence re-tested by a neutral party.
Lopez, the former lead singer for Grammy-winning 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 in prison after a jury found him guilty of having sexual relations with a 13-year-old relative at his Rancho Viejo condominium in 2004.
After a year-long battle over whether Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz must release the DNA, visiting judge Federico Hinojosa on Monday ordered Saenz to produce all items Lopez sought in an open-records request, and turn them over to his lawyer, Tim Hootman, 10 days from Monday.
Saenz told The Brownsville Herald he will appeal the decision.
Lopez sought the DNA through an open-records request, but Saenz wanted an Attorney General’s ruling on the matter because he was of the opinion that the DNA was protected under the Texas Family Code because a minor was involved in the case.
The AG ruled that Saenz’s request was not timely.
On Monday in 445th state District Court, Hinojosa ruled the evidence could be released under the Texas Family Code, section c, which states that confidential information can be disclosed if the court finds that the information is “essential to the administration of justice” and won’t endanger the life or safety of a child who is the subject of the case.
Under the Texas Public Information Act, Lopez “has a special right of access, beyond the right of the general public, to information held by a governmental body that relates to that person.” The legislation allows for the release of information to Lopez’s lawyer and grants the trial court the authority to order its release.
Saenz said previously that Lopez had access to the DNA evidence during the trial and that he should have sought its release under Chapter 64 of the criminal code.
“It (Chapter 64) sets up the steps and what hoops he has to jump through to have the court satisfied,” Saenz told The Herald in September. “I can’t do it for Joe Lopez because if I make an exception for him, I have to do it for everyone. That’s outside the law. I can’t do that.”
Court records show that Lopez had access to the evidence during the trial, but his defense never called any of its three DNA experts to the stand. Saenz inferred in September that it was because the DNA matched.
Hootman, however, in a motion for summary judgment, wrote that Texas appellate courts routinely deny requests for DNA testing under Chapter 64 and in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court “specifically addressed the denial of a request for Chapter 64 DNA testing by the Texas courts.”
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said a convicted person is entitled to proceed with federal civil rights action “to attempt to show, under the circumstances of his case, that the Texas courts had rendered the Chapter 64 post-conviction procedure ‘fundamentally inadequate to vindicate the substantive rights provided,’” according to the motion for summary judgment.
Hootman, for his part, has said Lopez’s case lived and died on DNA and with developments in testing procedures that have vindicated scores of convicted people across the United States and in Texas, Lopez should have a chance to have the DNA evidence used to convict him re-tested because Lopez’s original lawyers never tested the DNA evidence.
“His lawyers did not do this. This is a DNA case. It lives and dies on DNA,” Hootman said outside the 445th state District Court in September, adding that Lopez’s defense lawyers never questioned the state’s DNA experts during the trial or asked for a neutral tester.