San AntonioThree women, imprisoned for many years on child sex abuse charges, will have a hearing in 175th Criminal District Court in San Antonio Nov. 18.
The National Center for Reason and Justice ( NCRJ ) as well as supporters of the women will be in the courtroom and have high hopes that a judge will release the women on bail while exoneration efforts continue.
Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassie Rivera and Kristie Mayhugh along with a fourth woman, Anna Vasquez, were convicted in 1997-98 of abusing two girls, then 7 and 9 years old — both nieces of Elizabeth Ramirez. Now known nationwide as the San Antonio 4, all were sentenced to long prison terms; Ramirez to 37-1/2 years, the others drew 15-year sentences. Each is also required, after prison, to register as a sex offender. Anna Vasquez served 13 years of her 15-year sentence and was paroled last year under severe restrictions.
The four women refused plea offers and have always asserted their innocence. A 2010 front page lengthy investigative report by Michelle Mondo of the San Antonio Express-News spotlighted serious problems with the convictions. In 2012, one of the "victims" publicly recanted her allegations, giving a big boost to the fight to clear the women's names. Very recently, Bexar County ( San Antonio ) prosecutor Susan D. Reed conceded publicly that key evidence, a pediatrician's testimony for the prosecution claiming evidence of trauma on the children's genitals —crucial to the convictionswas based on outdated and discredited scientific research, so-called "junk science." The case, with dubious evidence, and sex abuse, sexual orientation, and race issues swirling, has drawn attention from national media outlets including The New York Times.
The San Antonio 4, a group of friends who are all Latina lesbians, have found increasing community support as Texans, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ( LGBT ) community members, have rallied to their defense. While crimes against LGBT victims are getting more public notice there's a dearth of attention to how the criminal justice system reckons with LGBT people accused or convicted of crimes.
The campaign to free the San Antonio 4 got going a bit by chance: A man in the Yukon stumbled across the case online, spent time to learn more and took up their cause. Searching widely for expert help he contacted NCRJ. Debbie Nathan, a board member, reviewed the trial record and case files — which contain a sensational reference to Satanismand concluded the women were wrongly convicted. NCRJ was first to see the pivotal role of "junk science" in the case and got lawyers Jeff Blackburn of the Innocence Project of Texas ( IPTX ) along with IPTX board member Michael Ware of Fort Worth, and Keith S. Hampton of Austin, to take up what has become a years-long legal fight.
What happened in San Antonio is not unique; NCRJ has noticed that many people falsely accused of abusing children have been lesbian or gay, or presumed to be so. The group spearheaded an arduous effort to free Bernard Baran, a gay man whose conviction in Massachusetts on child sex abuse charges was overturned after he spent more than 20 years — half his life — in prison. A largely volunteer advocacy organization, NCRJ has several dozen active cases in addition to the San Antonio 4; the list is online at www.ncrj.org . National Center for Reason and Justice was founded in 2002 to combat panic over harm to children, especially when sex abuse is alleged. The group fights for effective child protection, justice for the falsely accused, and reasoned, humane treatment for both the innocent and the guilty.