New Law Helps Release SA Four, Gives Hope to Others Wrongfully Convicted
Published: November 27, 2013
The evening of November 18, hand-in-hand, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera and Kristie Mayhugh—joined by Anna Vasquez—stepped into freedom for the first time in more than a decade.
Incarcerated for crimes they say they didn’t commit, the women, known as the “San Antonio Four,” embraced family, friends and supporters, who waited patiently outside the Bexar County Detention Center for a chance to finally be reunited with the women they believe were unjustly accused and robbed of a full life.
Convicted in the late ’90s for sexually assaulting Ramirez’s two nieces, the already strange case was built upon shaky evidence, flawed forensics and possible coercion, as the Current extensively reported in our November 12, 2012 cover story. For instance, one of the two child victims, now an adult, recanted her statement last summer, conceding her father had “coached” her into making false allegations against her aunt and three friends. Further, newly presented scientific evidence invalidated testimony given by a state expert witness, pediatrician Dr. Nancy Kellogg, who at the time affirmed scars on the victim’s hymen were a result of sexual abuse.
The decision to release the women was aided by a new Texas law that bolsters the “junk science” argument in granting appeals, paving the way for historic institutional reform, say legal advocates. It is this new law—the first of its kind in the country—that could make the San Antonio Four story a harbinger of what is to come for wrongfully convicted inmates.
An eleventh hour paperwork glitch in Rivera’s file prolonged the wait, dragging out the inevitable for anxious loved ones, who hung on eagerly to intermittent updates from Paul Berry, spokesperson for the County Sheriff’s Office. Would it be 15 minutes until they could see, hug, kiss and cry with their daughter, their mother, their sister? Thirty minutes? One hour, two?
In the delayed final stretch, Ramirez and Mayhugh refused to exit without their friend—a testament to their solidarity in the fight to prove their innocence. “We’ve all come as one package since the beginning and we’re going to stay that way,” Ramirez later said of their choice to stay behind until Rivera was released.
Earlier that day, tears of joy and cheers erupted in Judge Mary Roman’s packed Bexar County courtroom when the women’s attorney announced the San Antonio Four would be out on signature bond. (Vasquez was paroled in 2012 after serving nearly 13 years behind bars.)
Rivera’s 21-year-old son, Michael, was just nine years old when his mother was sent to prison. Teary-eyed, he said he was thankful for the verdict and a chance to reconnect with her a day shy of his 22nd birthday. Outside the courtroom, tears streamed down the face of Ramirez’s mother, Gloria Herrera, also at the hearing, who said the struggle to free her daughter had been a slow one, rife with despair and sadness. In the beginning, she said, “we had no hope.”
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