San Antonio Four become advocates in West Texas murder case

Cases are different, yet have some similarities

SAN ANTONIO – Known as the San Antonio Four at the time, the Latina lesbians whose 1998 sexual assault convictions were thrown out in 2016 and their records expunged, are trying to help do the same for a gay Apache convicted in the 1981 murder of a Catholic priest in Odessa.

“We didn’t have anybody to back us up. We had nothing. We were alone,” said Cassandra Rivera Hurtado.

Had it not for the Innocence Project of Texas exonerating them, Hurtado said, “We would all be living a miserable life.”

Related: Member of the San Antonio four shares how satanic panic played into her false conviction

Hurtado and the other three, who remain friends, are now advocating on behalf of James Harry Reyos, who has either been in prison or on parole since 1983.

Allison Clayton, deputy director of the Innocence Project of Texas said, her client was convicted based on a false confession he gave and what the jury called “his characteristics.”

“Of course, now we know, that’s code for his homosexuality and for the fact that he’s Apache, Native American,” Clayton said.

However, Clayton said new evidence has come to light that she plans to introduce this week.

“That’s the reason why now we think we have a real shot at getting James exonerated,” Clayton said.

She said Hurtado, Elizabeth Ramirez, Anna Vasquez and Kristie Mayhugh convey to her client, “We are here for you. We’ve lived this life. We can support you in a way that nobody else can.”

“We all know what it’s like to be incarcerated, pulled away from our family behind lies, crimes that never happen,” Ramirez said.

Reyos said he’s grateful for the women’s fortitude, courage and willingness to fight.

“You really believe in your innocence, you fight all the way, clear your name,” Reyos said.

The women learned about Reyos through Deb Esquenazi, the award-winning filmmaker who did a documentary about the San Antonio Four, “Southwest of Salem.”

Esquenazi said she heard about Reyos through the Innocence Project of Texas.

She’s now working on another documentary about Reyos and the San Antonio Four.

“The issues of homophobia, the matrix of social cultural forces that were so deep in both of their cases, very different cases,” Esquenazi said. “But the roots are there that are very similar.”

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They are known as the San Antonio Four, a group of friends wrongfully convicted in the 1990s. All four were accused of satanic rituals on two little girls and charged with aggravated sexual assault and indecency with a child.

About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.