In 1997 and 1998, four young and close-knit female friends were convicted of raping two little girls in 1994 in San Antonio, Texas, and were sentenced to prison although evidence pointed to their innocence. The women—Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez—who became known as the San Antonio Four, fought their wrongful convictions for more than 20 years. Finally, last Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declared them innocent.
In 2013, Mike Ware and the Innocence Project of Texas filed for post-conviction relief on behalf of Ramirez, Mayhugh, Rivera and Vasquez based on key pieces of evidence that seriously raised doubt around the integrity of their convictions.
First, one of the alleged victims recanted, admitting that she’d been forced by her family to accuse Ramirez, her aunt, of sexual abuse. Second, the medical examiner who testified against the women also recanted. She said that her testimony—that the little girls showed physical signs of sexual assault—was scientifically inaccurate.
According to an earlier post on the Innocence Blog, Vasquez was paroled in the summer of 2013, but was required to register as a sex offender. Later that year, the other three were released based on Texas’ forensic science statute which makes way for post-conviction relief if the forensic science used at trial has been discredited by advances in scientific knowledge.
After a hearing earlier this year, according to CNN.com, a judge recommended that the convictions be vacated, but “declined to fully exonerate them without a full recantation from the second” alleged victim.” But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said that based on the new evidence, it was unlikely that the women would have been convicted if the trial were held today.
Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood said in a statement: “It has been a long legal process for these women and our office has worked with the defense to ensure justice was done in this case. With today’s announcement we believe the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision did that. . . . I pray [for] peace and a new beginning for them.”