The San Antonio Four, four west side women who were the victims of what may have been the worst miscarriage of justice in Bexar County history, are fully innocent citizens today, all records of their convictions formally removed for the first time in more than two decades, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The criminal records of Kristie Mayhugh 44, Anna Vasquez,, 43, Elizabeth Ramirez, 44, and Cassandra Rivera, 43, were formally expunged today in the very courtroom where they were convicted of sexually assaulting two young girls who the women were caring for back in the 1990s.
The women were victims of a bizarre part of American criminal justice history called the 'Satanic Panic,' when otherwise intelligent people were convinced that children were being sexually assaulted and even murdered as part of Satanic rituals. The episode has been compared to the Salem Massachusetts witch trials of the late 17th Century. In fact, a documentary about the San Antonio Four which helped prompt the reopening of the case was entitled "South of Salem."
The women were exonerated and released after serving between 13 and 17 years in prison. Two girls the women had been caring for, both nieces of Ramirez, who may have been coached, claimed they had been ritually sexually assaulted, claims they later recanted. The fact that the four women are lesbians also contributed to the conviction, as it was widely and falsely believed in an age of rampant homophobia, that gay people were more likely to molest children.
They were released from prison in 2013, and they were officially exonerated by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2016, and today the expunction documents, meaning, after a nightmare lasting more than a quarter century all records of the case are removed, were presented to the women, according to the Innocence Project of Texas, which crusaded on their behalf.
"An exoneration takes away the conviction itself, the expunction takes away all records of it," Innocence Project Deputy Director Allison Clayton said.. "An exoneration is like the surgery to correct the main problem, but you still have the scars from it, the expunction gets rid of those scars."
Perhaps the most horrible example of 'Satanic Panic' was the McMartin Preschool case in California, where children actually claimed that adults were 'flying through the air' while sexually molesting them, and claims were made that more than 350 kids had been molested as part of cult rituals. At the time, experts claimed that if a parent denied sexually abusing children in the course of satanic rituals, that should be considered as 'evidence of guilt.'