The women known as the “San Antonio Four,” who were accused of gang-raping two young girls in Texas, have been exonerated in the criminal case they’ve been fighting for almost two decades, reports Jezebel.
Anna Vasquez, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera and Kristie Mayhugh spent nearly 15 years in prison following a 1998 conviction for allegedly sexually abusing Ramirez’s two nieces, aged seven and nine. Ramirez was convicted in 1997 for indecency with a child and aggravated sexual assault. She was handed a sentence of 37.5 years in prison, while the other defendants received a 15 year sentence for aggravated assault, and 10 years for child indecency charges.
The two minors reportedly told their grandmother that the women had sexually assaulted them twice when they stayed in Ramirez’s home. Although their accounts were deemed inconsistent, medical officials’ physical evidence suggested they were abused; it showed the girls had vaginal injuries. Dr. Nancy Kellogg stood firm on the belief that the injuries the girls sustained were caused by “painful trauma.”
Amid the accusations, the women identifying as lesbians also made their case tough because of the stigma homosexuality had at the time. A documentary titled Southwest of Salem: The Story of The San Antonio Four, directed by Deborah S. Esquenazi, showcased how homosexuality was an underlying theme in their plight, specifically in the early 90s. The film was also a part of the court’s decision.
Film is the court’s decision! pic.twitter.com/ukrN9W6Nm0
— Deborah S. Esquenazi (@deb_esquenazi) November 23, 2016
“I think the only reason that the investigation was seriously pursued, why there wasn’t more skepticism about the preposterous allegations in the first place, was because these four women had recently come out as gay, that they were openly gay,” explained their attorney, Mike Ware.
One of the girls came forward and admitted their story was fabricated, and that they were coaxed by their father to lie about it because of his personal issues with their aunt, Ramirez.
Additionally, Dr. Kellogg revealed that the medical evidence was incorrect. Those two key pieces of evidence propelled Ware and The Innocence Project of Texas to proceed with re-appealing the case. The women were released in 2013, but their future was still uncertain. On Wednesday (Nov. 23), the Texas Court of Appeals ruled that “most likely,” no jury would vote against the women considering the new medical evidence they had, and the niece’s recantation, leading to their innocent ruling.
“These defendants have won the right to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that they did not commit a crime. That they are innocent. That they deserve to be exonerated,” wrote Judge David Newall in his judgement. “These women have carried that burden. They are innocent. And they are exonerated.” In addition to being granted security from potential prosecutions, they’re also eligible for millions of dollars from the state for all they’ve experienced by the legal system.