SAN ANTONIO – The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' finding of innocence proved overwhelming for the women who came to be known as the San Antonio Four.
Hours after learning they were exonerated, they described the ruling as “amazing” and “unbelievable.”
They were accused in 1997 of sexually assaulting two young girls and threatening to kill them, but the court majority said their convictions nearly 20 years ago were based on “fantastical allegations.”
Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez were convicted in 1997 of attacking Ramirez’s nieces, ages 7 and 9. The girls were bound and sexually assaulted and their lives were threatened if they told anyone, authorities said.
“I believe the judges said it perfectly,” Vasquez said. “They’re absolutely right how fantastical this story was from the beginning.”
“We were convicted just so easily for so many reasons that were unreal," Rivera said.
“I was just like, 'Why couldn’t they have seen that from the beginning?'” Ramirez said.
Mayhugh, who was working Wednesday, was unavailable for the interview.
The women served nearly 15 years in prison until one was paroled and the other three were released on bond after one of the alleged victims recanted her story.
The appeals court also pointed to the forensic evidence, later described as “junk science,” which also was recanted.
The ruling said due to those and other factors, “These inconsistencies can no longer be set aside in light of what we know now.”
The national hysteria, at the time, over satanic sexual abuse, which also played a role in their controversial case, was detailed in a documentary that premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival — “Southwest of Salem” by filmmaker Deborah Esquenazi.
The women believe their convictions in the late '90s were due in large part to the fact they are lesbian.
Vasquez said times have changed now, “But there’s a lot further we must go. People are ignorant and believe that because you’re gay or because you’re lesbian, you have tendencies to hurt children.”
Vasquez said that kind of attitude is behind the objections to transgender people using certain bathrooms.
The appeals court ruling stating that they were wrongly convicted makes them eligible for compensation by the state of Texas.
“From the beginning, we were not worried about the compensation. We were worried about the fact we wanted our name cleared,” Rivera said. “We want the world to know we are innocent.”
Attorney Mike Ware was one of the lawyers who represented the San Antonio Four. He said, “The opinion is well-written, it’s excellent.”
“This court had the courage to reach the right results, and I’m very grateful for that,” Ware said. “They (San Antonio Four) had their lives taken away from them when they were 19 and 20 years old, and they were given this horrible label, as having committed a crime which never even occurred.”