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Freeing the San Antonio Four

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Anna Vasquez planned on attending nursing school when she was arrested at age 19; Cassandra "Cassie" Rivera was raising two young children when arrested at age 19; Elizabeth Ramirez was 20 years old and pregnant when arrested; Kristie Mayhuh, arrested at age 21, was studying to become a veterinarian.


Doctor Nancy Kellogg thought she saw Satan's hand in the unspeakable crimes described by the two young girls. Aged 7 and 9, the pair described in alarming detail a weeklong visit to their aunt's small West Side apartment in the summer of 1994 that devolved into a sadistic, orgy-like nightmare. They described their aunt, Elizabeth Ramirez, with red wild eyes grabbing the girls and forcing them into her bedroom. There Ramirez had three friends — Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera, and Anna Vasquez — waiting topless. The women proceeded to hold the girls down by their wrists and ankles, repeatedly raping them with various small objects. The girls spoke of syringes, vials of white powder, guns, and possibly a knife.

Kellogg, a widely respected child abuse expert and local pediatrician, examined the girls, deciding "this could be Satanic-related," according to her exam notes. Based on her research and experience in the field, Kellogg later testified, "If there is a female perpetrator and there's more than one perpetrator involved, there is a concern for [Satanic abuse]." And yet, remarkably, Kellogg couldn't remember if she'd personally seen such a case.

A judge ruled against putting Kellogg's Satan talk before the jury, but then-prosecutor Philip Kazen was free to make his own allusions, arguing in Ramirez's 1997 trial, "[T]he evidence is going to show that young woman over there held a nine-year-old girl up as a sacrificial lamb to her friends. … We're going to ask you to believe a nine-year-old little girl who was sacrificed on the altar of lust."

Before Kellogg ever heard the accusations and examined the girls, rumors of such ritual Satanic abuse around the country had been debunked as a contemporary witch hunt, a mass hysteria that fueled false accusations, imprisoned innocents, and destroyed lives. But it wasn't just the Devil that Kellogg saw. According to a review of the medical literature and child sex-abuse experts who spoke with the Current, Kellogg introduced dubious medical findings before the jury as evidence the girls had been violated, relying on forensics flawed both now and at the time of trial.

Lawyers with the Innocence Project of Texas, which took on the case two years ago, say one of the two child victims, now an adult, recanted this summer, bolstering the women's claims of innocence. The now young woman claims that as a child her father coerced and coached her into making false allegations against her aunt and three friends.

"I can say that these four women were convicted and falsely imprisoned for a crime they were completely innocent of," insisted Dallas lawyer Mike Ware, the women's attorney with Innocence Project. Before taking the case, Ware headed Dallas County's District Attorneys office's conviction integrity unit and was responsible for getting the wrongly convicted out of prison. "This is a crime that never even occurred," Ware said. "What the system has done to these women is horrible."

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