HOUSTON -- The Texas Board of Pardons and Parole has modified parole conditions for a Tejano singer, convicted of raping his niece, so that he can launch his comeback in Harris County.
Joe Lopez, the former lead singer for "Grupo Mazz," was released from prison in March 2018, after serving almost 12 years of his 20-year prison sentence. He is preparing to make a comeback and is calling it "the Freedom Tour." His first stop is El Rodeo Disco in southeast Houston, according to its Facebook page.
"To allow him back in Harris County as his first choice, just doesn't pass the smell test," said Andy Kahan, a crime victims' advocate with Crime Stoppers of Houston who has supported the victim for years. Kahan calls it a "slap in the face."
"The message the parole board is sending to victims. I can't fathom their rationale for allowing this to happen," he said.
When Lopez was released from prison, he was far from a free man. Among his special conditions for parole, he had to register as a sex offender and have no unsupervised contact with anyone under 17 as well as no contact with his victim. He was also prohibited from entering Harris County, without prior approval.
A spokesman with the Board of Pardons and Parole confirmed that condition has now been modified.
"In Mr. Lopez' case, the condition not to enter Harris County was recently modified solely for employment purposes," wrote Raymond Estrada in an email to Eyewitness News. "In making the decision, the parole panel reviewed his satisfactory compliance with parole since his release date of March 2018."
Lopez's attorney, Allison Clayton, said, "Joe is eager to get back performing because he loves his fans so much."
His manager, Sandra Vallejo, says Lopez has been rehearsing. She says he maintains his innocence and he is working on exoneration.
"For every one person against him, there are three more who support him," said Vallejo.
The Tejano music industry is watching closely.
"Say what you want about him. He's a big talent. He's great. He's powerful and I'm anxious to see how he does," Dave Biondi of BNetRadio Tejano music station, told ABC13.
Kahan says there could be protests. Lopez cancelled an event earlier this year in San Antonio after criticism and threats.