Four lesbians wrongly convicted of sexually abusing young children in their care nearly 20 years ago have finally been exonerated by a Texas court.
Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez were found guilty in 1997 of attacking Ramirez’s nieces, who were staying with her and her friends for a week.
The girls, then ages 7 and 9, testified they were tied up and sexually assaulted, and threatened if they told anyone.
Rivera was eventually paroled in 2012 and, after new evidence surfaced, the other three were released on bail in 2013.
But on Wednesday the women, known as the “San Antonio Four,” were declared innocent by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
“Those defendants have won the right to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that they did not commit a crime,” Judge David Newell ruled.
“These women have carried that burden. They are innocent. And they are exonerated.”
When the initial charges were made in 1994, Ramirez and the others were all 19 or 20. Vasquez and Rivera were a couple and Ramirez had a child of her own.
But in the ’80s and ’90s, America was in the midst of a “satanic panic,” a veritable witch hunt with hundreds of babysitters, preschool teachers and other caregivers being wrongfully accused of horrific crimes against children.
Add homophobia and stereotypes about gays being sexual predators to that atmosphere of paranoia and it’s not hard to see how the San Antonio Four were railroaded.
Now in their 40s, they’re grateful that justice has prevailed.
“I still can’t grasp the fact of just being free, finally, after all this time,” Ramirez told KSAT.
The 2016 documentary Southwest of Salem, recounts the women’s ordeal—and actually helped exonerate them.
In the film, director Deborah Esquenazi speaks with one of the alleged victims, now in her 20s, who recanted the testimony she gave as a child.
Below, watch the trailer for Southwest of Salem.