On Nov 18, 2013, four women, known as the San Antonio Four, were freed from prison after their convictions of sexual assault were overturned. The women”” Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhough, Anna Vasquez, and Cassandra Rivera”” were accused of sexually assaulting Ramirez’s seven-and nine-year-old nieces in 1994. All were tried, convicted and given hefty sentences despite their innocence. These cases are a landmark of inequality in the justice system. The women are all both Hispanic and homosexual, which were arguably contributing factors in their original sentencing. During the trial, the young girls gave incredibly inconsistent stories, and the described attacks were hard to imagine. The women were allowed to show limited evidence, and the science used to prosecute them was faulty. Because the trial took place in a less welcome time for lesbians, the women were doomed from the beginning.
Throughout all the trials, the women always claimed their innocence. Even when plea deals were offered to the women, which would get them out of prison in exchange for an admission of guilt, the four held their ground.
Since they have been put in prison, the lives of their families and friends have continued. Many of the four have had to stay behind bars while grandparents and parents passed away, children grew up and the world changed. In jail, other convicts targeted them for being “child molesters,” but the women never wavered. Now they are free to reap the benefits of both honesty and endurance. They will have to adjust to the new world and their new places in it, but at least the public knows the truth. They taught the world a lesson about sacrifice and honesty. They will now seek to gain legal “actual innocence” from Texas courts, meaning that all charges would be dropped because the court admits that the former convicts did not commit any crimes.
Perhaps the largest contributing factor to these women’s freedoms is the work of The Innocence Project of Texas, “a non-profit organization dedicated to securing the release of those wrongfully convicted of crimes in Texas and educating the public about the causes and effects of wrongful convictions.” This organization created widespread public support for the women, debunked the medical testimony and encouraged one of Ramirez’s nieces to come forward and admit to lying about the assault. This case marks one of the first times Texas’s new bill regarding reviewing old cases that used “junk science” has been put to use. It is legendary and gives hope to future court cases.
Austin director Deborah S. Esquenazi has been chronicling the events leading to the women’s incarceration, their attempts at freedom and their overturned convictions. She is filming a documentary surrounding the trial and the women, while explaining the intricacies of the Texas judicial system. In particular, the filmmakers are shadowing famous attorneys Mike Ware and Jeff Blackburn to understand every aspect of the case. The film will also explain how both prejudice against Hispanics and homophobia harmed the women’s chances at being found “not guilty.” The documentary is currently unnamed and does not have a set release date, but should be out within the next year.
Maddie Smith is an intern for the Trinitonian.