The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday that the “San Antonio 4,” the four women who were the subject of the gripping new documentary Southwest of Salem, were wrongfully convicted of aggravated sexual assault and will be exonerated, according to KSAT 12 News.
The four women – Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez – were accused of attacking and sexually assaulting Ramirez’s two nieces in the summer of 1994. Though the allegations against them were inconsistent and the forensic evidence based on false assumptions, all four women were convicted in an environment rife with homophobia – all four had been in same-sex relationships – and satan-related paranoia.
Ramirez was eventually sentenced to 37 years in prison, while Vasquez, Mayhugh and Rivera each received 15-year sentences. Rivera was paroled in 2012, while the other three women were released on bail in 2013 after the Innocence Project of Texas came to their aid.
In 2012, one of the nieces recanted her testimony, suggesting that her father forced her to accuse the San Antonio 4 of rape. A year later, Texas introduced a law allowing those who have been convicted to challenge their rulings if there is new or different scientific evidence available. Under this law, the women challenged their conviction, and the district attorney’s office agreed that they deserved a new trial. However, at the time, the judge did not find that the women had proven their innocence. A documentary about the case, Southwest of Salem: the Story of the San Antonio Four, had its world premiere earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival.
According to documents obtained by KSAT, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals asserted on Wednesday that due to “clear and convincing evidence establishing innocence combined with the lack of reliable forensic opinion testimony corroborating the fantastical allegations in this case, no rational juror could find any of the four Applicants guilty of any of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.”