The persecution of the San Antonio Four
Looking back at the story, the documentary Southwest of Salem documents the persecution of Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez.
The four were Latina lesbians who were falsely accused and then wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting two young girls in San Antonio, Texas.
All four of them had declared their innocence, but the jury sentenced them to prison after their trials in 1997 and 1998
The San Antonio Four: The alleged crime
The four were 19 and 20 years old when they were accused by Ramirez’s nieces– Stephanie and Vanessa, aged 7 and 9 at the time– of molesting them in 1994.
At that time, the four had come out as lesbians. All four denied the allegations.
“To sit there and defend yourself against something like that, knowing it’s such a horrible crime, and people were looking at you like you are awful,” Rivera told CNN.
Aside from the young girls’ testimonies, the state’s medical expert, Dr. Nancy Kellogg, testified that a sexual assault exam corroborated the accusations.
Though lurid allegations of Satanism were raised, prosecutors cited the women’s sexual orientation as motive during their closing arguments.
All four were convicted of aggravated sexual assault and indecency, and sentenced to prison. Ramirez, accused of being their leader, received more than 37 years.
The San Antonio Four: The truth emerges
Several years later, one of Ramirez’s two nieces– Stephanie Limon, now in her twenties– came out to say the charges were untrue.
Stephanie said that her family had coached her with the supposed story because they were were angry at Ramirez for being a lesbian.
“It didn’t happen. I have no memory of it ever happening,” she told journalist Debbie Nathan.
Even as the medical science cited during the trial was soon discovered to be wrong, the testimony of the young girls had placed all four women in the apartment during the assault.
However, work records of the women showed that they all weren’t together in the apartment at the time.
Because of this, defense attorney Mike Ware– together with the Innocence Project of Texas– filed for post-conviction relief so as to have the verdicts overturned.
“I think the only reason that the investigation was seriously pursued, why there wasn’t more skepticism about the preposterous allegations in the first place, was because these four women had recently come out as gay, that they were openly gay,” Ware said.
The San Antonio Four: The current situation
A Bexar County District Court allowed the release of three of the women in 2013 while the court was considering the defense’ request. The fourth– Vasquez– had already been released on parole.
In February 2016, the judge recommended the convictions be vacated and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is set to make a final ruling on the matter.
However, the court didn’t go as far as to declare them innocent because of lack of “hard scientific evidence” and the other girl hadn’t recanted her testimony.
“I believe we deserve to be known as innocent. There is a terrible injustice. We are not going give up until we are found we are innocent. We will keep fighting,” Rivera said.
For more about their story and the documentary, check out this month’s issue of Lesbian News.