S2E11: Live at SXSW with the San Antonio Four
In 1995, 20-year-old Elizabeth Ramirez and three of her friends —Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez — were indicted on charges of sexually molesting Ms. Ramirez’s 7-year-old and 9-year-old nieces in San Antonio, TX. Before charges were filed, police learned that all four women were gay and had recently come out to their families. The allegations came in the wake of more than a decade of national hysteria over claims of satanic ritual abuse of children. All four women cooperated with authorities but vehemently denied they molested the girls. In both trials, prosecutors won convictions by discounting the many inconsistencies in the little girls’ testimonies and argued that the inconsistencies were outweighed by the testimony of a pediatrician. Prosecutors portrayed Elizabeth Ramirez as the ringleader and tried her first. She was convicted in 1997 of aggravated sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child and sentenced to 37½ years in prison. The remaining women were tried together in 1998 and were each convicted of two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child and two counts of indecency with a child. All three were sentenced to 15 years in prison on the aggravated sexual assault charges and 10 years for the indecency charges. The convictions began to unravel many years later when one of Elizabeth’s two nieces, now in her twenties, stepped forward to say she had lied. Members of her family coached her, she told authorities, to make up a story because of their anger about Elizabeth's sexuality. Soon after, the pediatrician used by the prosecution recanted her testimony based on new scientific evidence that showed her original findings regarding the girls' injuries were medically inaccurate. With the new evidence, the Innocence Project of Texas filed for post-conviction relief to have the verdicts overturned. A Bexar County District Court allowed Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera, and Elizabeth Ramirez to be released from prison in 2013 while the court considered their request to have their verdicts overturned. Anna Vasquez had just been released on parole. They were finally exonerated in 2016 after serving a combined total of 62 years in prison.
Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom is a production of Lava For Good Podcasts in association with Signal Co. No1 and PRX.