SAN ANTONIO, Texas – After spending almost 17 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, Elizabeth Ramirez, convicted – along with three female friends – of sexually assaulting two girls in the mid-1990s, said that being lesbian and Hispanic hurt them in a case that received wide coverage in Texas.
“Being lesbian and Latino, we didn’t have chance” given that the judges “were so homophobic that they thought that because of the fact we were homosexuals we were capable of committing those crimes,” said Ramirez in an interview with EFE at her San Antonio home surrounded by her mother, her son, her sister and her partner.
The media dubbed them “The San Antonio Four,” and the openly lesbian women were accused in 1994 of raping and threatening two girls – ages 7 and 9 and nieces of Ramirez, who is of Mexican origin – with a gun.
The little girls claimed that they were “tied up and raped” and said that the women had put a pistol to their heads and “threatened to kill” them if they told anyone what had happened.
However, Ramirez and the other three accused – Kristie Mayhugh, Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera, who at the time were 20, 22, 19 and 20, respectively – said from the start that they were innocent and that the whole case was fabricated.
Later, in 1997, Ramirez, considered to be the head of the group, was sentenced to 37½ years in prison, while in 1998 the other three women received sentences of 15 years each.
“In the trial, they made us seem like monsters, they made people believe that I was sacrificing my nieces to my friends because they were lesbians,” she said in a halting voice.
In addition, Ramirez, who is now 42, said that “being Latinos without any money” also reduced their chances of success at trial.
Several investigations into the case have found that the person behind the accusations could be the little girls’ father, who at the time was divorced from Camarillo, a fact that neither the people interviewed nor the girls’ mother rule out.
Between sobs, Ramirez said that even now – 22 years later – she does not know the girls’ motives in accusing her, although in 2012, the case took a radical turn when one of the alleged victims admitted that she had lied, although the other still maintains her original version of the supposed incident.
When Ramirez went to prison, her son was just 2 years old and she could not see him until he turned 19, although now they live together and are continuing the process of getting to know one another.
“It’s really bad to be in jail with charges related to kids,” said Ramirez, adding that she was attacked and threatened for many years for that reason after vigilantes paid other prisoners to hurt her.
In 2012, Vasquez left prison on parole and in 2013, Ramirez and the other two women were released.
Besides the fact the one of the supposed victims has retracted her accusation, court authorities concluded, in deciding to release the women, that serious errors were committed in conducting the psychological and forensic tests presented at the trial.
In late November, the four women were exonerated by the Texas Appeals Court, which concluded that they are “innocent and are exonerated of any charges.”
Now, “The San Antonio Four” are fighting to get economic compensation, money that “cannot buy all the time and memories with our families and children that we lost,” said Ramirez, who wants to close the book on her painful odyssey.
The women’s story is the subject of “Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four,” a documentary to be screened Friday at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.