SAN ANTONIO – The women known as the "San Antonio Four" await a decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals after a state district judge recommended they should get a new trial. However, Judge Pat Priest said without DNA, they failed to meet the threshold of proving their innocence.
Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez were convicted of attacking Ramirez’s nieces, ages 7 and 9 at the time. The girls had allegedly been bound, sexually assaulted and their lives threatened if they told.
One of the victims later recanted her testimony.
After being tried and convicted in 1997, the women were sent to prison. Rivera was paroled in 2012, but after new evidence came to light, the other three women were released on bail in 2013 with the help of the Innocence Project of Texas.
Mike Ware, the group’s co-founder, said they disagree with the judge not making a judicial finding of innocence.
“We had two days of uncontroverted evidence establishing their innocence,” Ware said. “We’re looking forward to making our arguments with the Court of Criminal Appeals, who will actually make the decision.”
Ware said the new evidence included testimony that the father of one of the little girls was the one who instigated the complaints after one of the accused had rejected his advances in the past. He also said there had been inaccurate testimony by a forensic expert.
“The evidence is overwhelming,” Ware said.
He said a new trial would be painful reliving the case, “but if it comes to that, we will be more than ready and I would fully expect an acquittal.”
Ware said despite their lives remaining in limbo, “They’re grateful to be free. They’re grateful that almost everyone now understands they did not do this, that they’re innocent.”
DA LaHood has 'concerns' of case moving forward
The recommendation for a new trial has been forwarded to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which will review the evidence and decide whether or not to adopt the recommendation.
If they adopted, the conviction will be set aside and the cases will be sent back to the office of Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood. LaHood will then decide whether to go forward with a new trial or not. LaHood said at that point, the process starts all over again. He will look over all the evidence and can decide on a plea bargain, dismiss the case or try the case.
"If the higher court says these cases are going to go back to the DA's office for a new trial, that means that the citizens accused, these four ladies, deserve a new trial. So we would be starting over from scratch," LaHood said.
However, he told KSAT 12 Wednesday night that he is not sure he would go through with that.
"As we talk right now, and I want to be open-minded until the final decision, but I don't believe going forward with prosecution of these cases will serve justice," LaHood said. "If we got this case now, the evidence that we now know and the situation that we know now with full context and everything that we know, I would have concerns going forward."
LaHood said he will be able to give a more detailed answer about his thoughts on the case once he finds out what the Court of Criminal Appeals decides.