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How Four Texan Lesbians were Wrongfully Convicted of Rape

By Kavish Harjai

In recognition of Pride month, we are highlighting stories of exonerees who were wrongfully convicted on the basis of their perceived sexual identity. These stories serve as examples of how homophobia, transphobia, and general anti-LGBTQ sentiments have been ingrained in the criminal justice system.

By showcasing these stories, we hope to inspire people to continue to fight against the injustices that plague a significant part of our society but also celebrate the LGBTQ exonerees, lawyers, community, and allies who stand up for the wrongfully convicted.

The San Antonio Four

Update: On Nov. 23, 2016, the #SanAntonioFour were exonerated and declared “actually innocent” by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Four best friends–Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez–also known at the San Antonio Four, were wrongfully convicted in 1997 and 1998 of raping Ramirez’s seven- and nine-year-old nieces during a 1994 trip to Ramirez’s San Antonio, Texas, apartment.

The two nieces testified that they were sexually assaulted by the four women at gunpoint. Medical testing indicated damage to the girls’ genitals; the expert witness on the case stated that the wounds could’ve been caused only by penetration with foreign objects. The prosecutors took this evidence, combined with prejudice sentiments that the women were lesbians, to convince the jury that they were guilty of these sexual felonies. Ramirez was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to almost 38 years in prison. The remaining three women were convicted the following year, and each sentenced to 15 years. 

The women have always maintained their innocence and refused to take a plea deal.

“For a while we were just a number lost in a system, but then these wonderful people came along.” Cassandra Rivera

After evidence revealed that the medical testimony presented in court was erroneous and one of Ramirez’s nieces recanted her testimony, admitting that she had been forced by family members to deliver false testimony, the San Antonio Four’s defense attorneys filed for post-conviction relief in 2013. That year, all of the women were released. Vasquez was paroled in the summer, but faced restrictions as registered as a sex offender; several months later, the other three were released after the Innocence Project of Texas filed its petition to reverse their convictions based on Texas’ forensic science statute. 

Now, for more than two years, the San Antonio Four’s case has been going through the Texas court system. They are represented by defense attorney Mike Ware, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

“For a while we were just a number lost in a system, but then these wonderful people came along; we have Mike Ware, who has performed miracles for us,” Rivera said during a recent trip to New York City.  

It is now up to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to decide the fate of the women and the decision may come out before the end of 2016.

Their case has gained significant coverage as the subject of the documentary, Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four directed by Deborah Esquenazi, which was screened at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and recently won the 2016 Audience Award at OUTeast Film Festival in Canada.

TAKE ACTION: Steps you can take to help exonerate the San Antonio Four

Sources: CNN

18 Comments

  1. These four women are innocent!!!!! Please exonerate all 4!

  2. D. Jacobs

    I watched the movie tonight about the San Antonio Four. I still can’t catch my breath. The tears keep coming.

    Who can I write, email or call on their behalf? Please let me know.

    I clicked the link that was given at the end of your article but the page is not there. (?)

  3. Antonia Ramirez

    I just finished watching the show and I am praying that God will put his hand in your case. God will take control. Their families need them. Please I hope the judge an exonerated them.

    Dios siempre tiene el control. God bless you.

  4. sheilla jerinigan

    I would like to tell you that I will give you a big hug for all that you guys have been through. I hope that you get the outcome that you want. After watching the program about what you all have been through, I remember all that went on with all the day cares and what happened with all what you went through. I wish that things would be better for all of you in the future.

  5. Allison Schumacher

    I fully support the San Antonio Four…. They are innocent and need to be exonerated they have suffered long enough. The San Antonio Four also have the support of my family and friends from Kanab Utah!!!!

  6. Shirleen Rodriguez

    This is so outrageous

  7. Dawn Soriano

    Hello ladies. My name is Dawn and I am family. I watched the show and was in tears for nearly the whole show. When I wasn\’t I was passed off. I feel for you all. I cannot stop thinking about what you are going through. My girlfriend of 20 years and I have and will be praying for you until the verdict is over turned. God bless you and your families. Don\’t give up!

  8. Dawn

    As with the Mempis Three, the San Antonio Four prosecutors used bias and fear to press their case. It seems when someone is different from everyone else, it makes them a target. Regardless of evidence, innocent people are convicted of crimes they did not commit. HIgh praise to the Innocence Project. Good luck and God bless!

  9. Loraine

    Im so broken after watching this show. It ended 15 minutes ago and i’m still crying!! These 4 woman are innocent!!!!!!! Who can i write or email on their behalf?!! So heartbreaking!!

  10. J.D

    Much love to all four of you. May you all find peace and justice. Shame on all those people who keep dragging this along because they have so much to lose. To those people, DO THE RIGHT THING! GOD IS WATCHING AND YOU WILL HAVE TO FACE HIM ON YOUR DAY. To the four ladies, stay strong. Our prayers are with you!

  11. Star

    At first I was mad for the little girls because there is nothing I despise more than a child molester. But as soon as I turned the documentary on and about 5mins in I knew for sure these women were innocent! I cried so hard for these women and their families. God will show favor and clear their names.

  12. Reighn

    Please let me know what I can do or where I can go to help these women. This is the saddest thing I have ever seen in my life. Anyone who convinced a child to do and say things like this that were obviously untrue, that is the person or persons that should be prosecuted. It os absolutely the most horrible thing I have seen in awhile. I do not blame these four women nor the poor children that are also victims here. Not victims of sexual abuse but victims of mental abuse by whoever coached them into this, there father amd grandmother. These children trusted you and this is what you did to them? And to these innocent women who missed oit on their families for so long? How do you sleep at night???Hugs and best wishes ladies….I would love to help

  13. Missy

    This is terrible! To think our justice system could be so messed up.

  14. Renee French

    I pray you are all exonerated and live long full lives ❤️ In the future when you are able to travel … I would love to take you all to dinner in my little town of Alamogordo N.M. I am the proud mother of a young lesbian woman … and I can\’t even breath right now after your story.

  15. Rena Dodd

    I just watched the movie and I can’t believe how terrible our justice system is! When the proof of innocence is so overwhelming it should not take years and so many hurdles to get innocent people out of prison! This has to change!!! I feel so terrible for these four women and their families as well as for the two little girls. Javier Limon should be prosecuted for ruining so many lives! He is an evil man! I’m terribly sorry that this happened to you four beautiful women! Bless you all – from Conroe, Tx.

  16. Caroline

    This whole case is so outrageous. What the hell kind if judicial system do we have that woman are wrongly convicted so easily. Anybody with legal background please help their attorneys get them out of prison. If everyone makes enough noise they will release them. The prosecutors on this case should be fired.

  17. Daniel Cordero

    Hi my name is Daniel Cordero and I have watched your story and I’m so disgusted in the justice system I hope that you a have a chance to move on from this nightmare that you had to endure I hope you all get millions of dollars for every day you had to be locked up I wish you all the best God bless you all and keep ur heads held high God Bless

  18. Very helpful and Great information,
    we appreciate advise especially coming from a professional.
    Thanks again and keep up the great work!

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