San Antonio Four Visit Fort Worth

October 21, 2016

In the late 1990s, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez were tried and convicted of performing “satanic ritual abuse” on two young girls.

Southwest of Salem posterThe four women joined Aggie Law students, faculty and staff and members of the legal community for a private screening of a documentary on their accusation and trials, “Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four,” on Oct. 4 at the AMC Palace Theater in downtown Fort Worth's Sundance Square.

Using the women’s home video footage from 21 years ago combined with recent verité footage and interviews, the film explores their personal narratives and their search for exculpatory evidence to help overturn the convictions from their losing criminal trials. Fifteen years into their journey, director Deborah S. Esquenazi captures an on-camera recantation by one of the initial outcry victims, who was seven at the time of the investigation, and is now 25 years old.

This brings the filmmaker into the role of investigator along with attorneys at the Innocence Project, who are just beginning their quest for truth in this case.

Mike Ware SA4 AP photoCassandra Rivera, center, followed by Elizabeth Ramirez and Kristie Mayhugh are led out of the Bexar County Jail by their attorney Mike Ware, right, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in San Antonio. It was announced earlier in the day the San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were expected to walk free Monday after a judge agreed that their convictions were tainted by faulty witness testimony. Vasquez, the fourth, has already been paroled, but under strict conditions. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

One of their attorneys is Mike Ware, Texas A&M University School of Law Innocence ​Project director and adjunct professor and Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

After the screening, Ware, Ramirez, Rivera, Mayhugh and Vasquez took questions from the audience while limiting what they could say about the ongoing case.

“Now we’re waiting for word from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals,” Ware said.

Among the first questions from the audience was, “What was your biggest loss from being in prison?”

For Ramirez, it was not watching her son, who was two years old when she went to prison, grow up. For Mayhugh, it was not being able to finish college; she was planning to study to be a veterinarian at Texas A&M. For Rivera, it was missing the birth of her granddaughter. And for Vasquez, it was not being able to even start a life.

SA4 premiereElizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera, Anna Vasquez and Mike Ware answer questions from the Aggie Law audience.

“Our plans were diverted because of what happened,” Vasquez said. 

As for questions on whether something like this can still happen, all women agreed that it’s possible.

“There’s a lot that needs to be cleaned up in the justice system,” Rivera said.

The women joined Ware’s Innocence Clinic class the next day to talk more about their case.

Vasquez said current law students, particularly those of the younger generation, can learn a lot from this case and not be open to prejudice.

Mayhugh said their time in prison really opened their eyes to a different perspective of the justice system.

“You see a whole other side of things [from prison],” she said.

Ramirez concluded that law students should take into account that the issues they face in practice not only affect their clients but also their clients’ loved ones.

“We weren’t the only ones who suffered,” she said. “Our families did as well.”

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- Article by Jennifer Nassar, Communications Specialist, Texas A&M University School of Law