It has taken nearly two decades of proclaiming their innocence, but last evening, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Elizabeth Ramirez walked out of the Bexar County Jail, in San Antonio, Texas, after an agreement was reached between the Bexar County District Attorney and the women’s attorney, Michael Ware. Anna Vasquez, the fourth woman in the group dubbed the ‘San Antonio 4’ was released on parole last year.
As reported by NBC news
the four women were accused of a 1994 sexual assault by two of Ramirez’s nieces, ages 7 and 9 at the time. The four were convicted primarily on the testimony of the two alleged victims and scientific evidence that has now been debunked.
The case occurred in the wake of a rash of alleged day care sexual assault cases in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and had similarities to the earlier day care cases, including substantial inconsistencies in the testimonies of the victims. The younger of the two has since recanted to the media and has said she will help her aunt and the other women in their quest for full exoneration. The older alleged victim maintains the attacks happened.
The women were released on bond pending a decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on whether to grant them a new trial. If the court grants a new trial, the district attorney has indicated that her office will not seek to retry them. The convictions would thus be overturned.
As the wrongful conviction’s editor, Mark Godsey, wrote in the Huffington Post
the release of the woman last night puts Texas on the “cutting edge of efforts to free the innocent. “Under a new “junk science” law passed in Texas, new scientific evidence that undermined forensic testimony critical to the women’s convictions was allowed to be presented. In this case, a 2007 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics undermined a doctor’s testimony regarding alleged signs of physical abuse on the victims.
As Mark Godsey reported, “If the two girls had been physically examined using today’s standards, the medical testimony would no longer corroborate the allegations of sexual abuse.”
Scientific advances that undermine convicting testimony, however, has not provided relief to inmates convicted on faulty science in other states where such appeals are often not seen by a judge as meeting the difficult standard of “new evidence” generally required for a new trial.
In this case, a number of efforts to seek the truth and improved justice worked together in an exemplary model for other jurisdictions and states. The Texas legislature provided a new means of addressing the troubling issue of convictions based on faulty science. Susan D. Reed, Bexar County District Attorney, maintains a post-conviction review unit charged with looking at potential miscarriages of justice. The Innocence Project of Texas worked with legislators to address an obstacle to correcting conviction error and represents inmates with worthy claims of innocence.
All are to be commended, and legislators and prosecutors across the nation should take note.