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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.


"You know, it seems to me, and many of us, that she's too personally involved in the cause that she's supposed to be examining clinically. And perhaps she has been doing that all along and it's only coming to light now."

At Navarijo's trial, Kellogg even acknowledged that small white lines in the hymen were no longer used as clear evidence of child sexual assault after studies in which she had participated revealed lines were normal variation and present in non-abused children At one point, One defense attorney asked her, "So at one time we were using that fact as an indicator of sexual abuse, until there was discovery that that occurred in newborns and wasn't necessarily an indicator?" Kellogg's response: "Yes."

In fact, Kellogg had presented it as evidence to convict the San Antonio Four just a year prior.

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Although a troubling set of circumstances led to the convictions of Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera, and Anna Vasquez, an equally strange chain of events may have begun to pave the way for their exoneration.

Darrell Otto, a professor of renewable resource management in Canada's Yukon Territory, first stumbled upon the case in 2006 during a web search. The story "was just so far off the rails," he recalled in a phone interview.

He corresponded with Ramirez for 18 months, asking her to explain the case. Ramirez mailed Otto court documents. Once he read through them, he was convinced of the women's innocence. "I mean, ethically, what do I do? I can't just leave them there," he said. He made the 3,700-mile trip to visit the women in prison.

Otto contacted the National Center for Reason and Justice, an advocacy group that investigates cases of those wrongly convicted, particularly falsely accused pedophiles. There Otto found journalist Debbie Nathan, a Current reporter in the late 1990s who went on to help found the NCRJ, and who has since become an avid advocate for the San Antonio Four. "I made it my business to help those women because I feel terrible that I didn't know about them when I was in San Antonio," she said.

With Nathan's prodding, the Innocence Project of Texas eventually took the case. Support from both groups eventually led to an in-depth December 2010 piece from Express-News crime reporter Michelle Mondo, the first reporter to critically evaluate the case.

The same day Navarijo's daughter recanted her allegations in a San Antonio courtroom Vasquez left prison after nearly 13 years. Vasquez, like Mayhugh and Rivera, refused to take part in mandatory counseling sessions that would have required her to admit to and talk about the supposed crime. Mike Ware with the Innocence Project of Texas suggests a polygraph Vasquez passed last year may have swayed the parole board's decision, despite Vasquez's refusal to enter counseling.

"I think as this travesty becomes more and more obvious and more and more publicly known, the big question is how will people in power react to our efforts to make it right?" Ware said.

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