Four women -- all convicted child sex offenders known as the 'San Antonio 4' -- took their first steps on the road to freedom on Monday.
Three of four women who remained in prison after their 1998 convictions of sexually assaulting two young girls walked out of the Bexar County Jail holding their hands high in the air around 8:30 p.m. Monday.
A judge signed off on their release Monday morning, but the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office said a problem with paperwork issued by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice delayed their release. But finally, the moment arrived.
Surrounded by cameras, the women and their loved ones held each other and cried just feet outside the jail doors.
Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera and Kristie Mayhugh were released on signature bonds. The fourth woman, Anna Vasquez, was released last year on parole.
As Rivera walked out of the jail, she met her 2 year old granddaughter for the first time.
“I can’t even describe it," Rivers said as she cried and struggled to catch her breath. "I love my family. I’m ready to be a grandmother.”
“It’s a day we once thought would never come,” said Ashley Chavira, Rivera’s daughter. “It’s a big day. We just want to hold her.”
All four women were sent to prison in 1998 following their convictions on aggravated sexual assault of a child and indecency charges.
Ramirez’ two nieces, then 7 and 9 years old, accused the four women of sexually assaulting them in 1994. One of the nieces has since recanted.
For Vasquez, this is a day she has been looking forward to for years.
"(We felt) disbelief and shock (that) we were even in prison for a crime that never was committed," she said. "For us to accept that -- I really wouldn't say we accepted it -- but it was something that was done to us, and I think our strength just helped us along the way."
Cassandra Rivera's brother, Robert, said, "We never thought for a moment this day would come."
"Now that it is at that point, it's mind-blowing," said her son, Michael, who was 9 years old when his mother was sentenced and will celebrate his 22nd birthday on Tuesday.
KSAT 12 tried to speak with Ramirez’ mother, Gloria Herrera, but she was so overcome with emotion that left her shaking and speechless.
Since the two alleged victims are Ramirez's nieces, she received the harshest sentence of 37 years.
Her mother, Gloria Herrera, said, "They are my granddaughters. Here are my daughter and her friends, good friends -- all four."
However, Herrera said she has not any contact with them.
Michael Ware, the attorney representing the women, says now they will try to overturn their convictions. If successful, the women hope that will lead to their exoneration.
The National Center for Reason and Justice began examining the case in 2008 after a professor in Canada brought it to their attention.
In 2010, The Innocence Project began working with the NCJR to secure the release of all four women.