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Man agrees to 2-year prison term for vandalizing 1929 Picasso painting at Houston museum

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HOUSTON - A man accused of vandalizing a 1929 Pablo Picasso painting in a Houston museum — an act that was caught on cellphone video — agreed Tuesday to a two-year prison term as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.

Uriel Landeros had faced felony graffiti and criminal mischief charges accusing him of spray-painting "Woman in a Red Armchair" at the Menil Collection.

Emily Detoto, Landeros' attorney, said that after negotiating with prosecutors during a court hearing, her client agreed to plead guilty to the graffiti charge in exchange for a minimal prison sentence. The other charge was dropped. Landeros had faced up to 10 years in prison.

Detoto said Landeros, 22, wanted the criminal mischief charge dismissed because he believed "what he did to the painting was not criminal mischief, it was an artistic statement, an expression, much like graffiti art is."

"He acknowledged what he did was wrong in terms of he caused damage to the painting. But he also understood that a lot of times to make a point you have to go to these extremes," she said.

The painting was damaged June 13 and a bystander captured the act in a 24-second video that was posted on YouTube. The vandal left behind an image of a bullfighter, a bull and the word "conquista," the Spanish word for conquest.

Landeros, a U.S. citizen, fled to Mexico after the incident. He surrendered to authorities at the U.S.-Mexico border in January.

"It's good the judicial process has done its work and come to a conclusion," said Menil spokesman Vance Muse.

Detoto said there is a good chance her client could be quickly paroled once he is placed into the Texas prison system. He will get credit for the five months in jail he's already served, and Detoto noted the crime wasn't violent.

After his release from prison, Landeros plans to return to the University of Houston and finish the one semester he has left to get his bachelor's degree, Detoto said.

"He plans to continue with his art career. We're hopeful that he'll be able to turn a positive out of this experience," she said.

Muse said the painting's restoration "is close to completion." He said no date has been set on when it would be put back on display.

The vandalism charges garnered Landeros national attention, and a Houston art gallery raised the ire of the local art community in October by staging a show of his works.

It was not the first time one of Picasso's works has been vandalized. In 1999, an escaped mental patient in Amsterdam cut a hole in the middle of his "Woman Nude Before Garden," a 1956 painting.

Other works of art have also been the target of vandals. In October, a vandal scrawled graffiti on a mural by modern American master Mark Rothko at London's Tate Modern. The "Mona Lisa" has been attacked several times, including with acid, a rock and even a teacup.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: www.twitter.com/juanlozano70

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