From the Satanic Panic to 12 years in Texas prison

You’ve heard about the West Memphis 3? Meet the San Antonio 4.

Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera have served 12 or more years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. So what were the women convicted of doing?

Satanic ritual abuse.

Yes, that again.

In, 1994, in the midst of the Satanic Panic, Ramirez’s nieces, 7 and 9, stayed with her for a week. Later, there were allegations that the girls were raped at gunpoint, by all four women, during that week. A doctor who examined the girls after they made their claims “thought she saw Satan’s hand in the unspeakable crimes described by the two young girls,” according to the San Antonio Current:

They described their aunt, Elizabeth Ramirez, with red wild eyes grabbing the girls and forcing them into her bedroom. … Kellogg, a widely respected child abuse expert and local pediatrician, examined the girls, deciding “this could be Satanic-related,” according to her exam notes. Based on her research and experience in the field, Kellogg later testified, “If there is a female perpetrator and there’s more than one perpetrator involved, there is a concern for [Satanic abuse].”

The prosecutors went even further, suggesting Satanic overtones even though they were forbidden from bringing up the subject directly in the courtroom:

“[T]he evidence is going to show that young woman over there held a nine-year-old girl up as a sacrificial lamb to her friends. … We’re going to ask you to believe a nine-year-old little girl who was sacrificed on the altar of lust.”

From there, prosecutors moved on to suggesting that some or all of the women might be lesbians. (Which is just about as relevant as Satanism accusations — which is to say, not at all relevant.)

So where did these ideas come from? It seems, as is often the case with such situations, that they came from the prosecutors themselves, which may explain why their stories made no sense:

the jury heard a maze of contradictions from the supposed victims. On and off the witness stand, their accounts changed, sometimes in dramatic fashion. The assaults happened at night, then in the morning, then in the afternoon while “Full House” was on TV. They were assaulted in the living room, or in the bedroom, either together or separate. Mayhugh wasn’t there. Or was she? Their father picked them up from the apartment following the assault. Then it was Ramirez and Mayhugh who drove them home. Ramirez pointed a gun at the girls as they spoke to their father on the phone, threatening them to keep quiet. Then, Ramirez and Vasquez each had guns. Then, only Vasquez had a gun.

This wasn’t the first time the girls had made such a claim. Earlier, they had told adults that they were assaulted by a “mysterious 10-year-old boy.” They made similar claims while their mother and father battled for custody, and again when their mother remarried. Although we should be careful to listen to children who say they were abused, it’s unlikely that this happened to them four times in their young lives. (Ramirez claims that the girls’ father had an unrequited passion for her; and when she rejected him, she believes he urged the girls to make the accusations against her.)

Oh, and one of their “victims” has since recanted.

There wasn’t much hard evidence against the San Antonio Four. Even examinations of their hymens weren’t conclusive — and then the doctor who photographed them said she couldn’t produce photos as courtroom evidence. All four of the accused have passed polygraph tests.

But they were convicted anyway. Three were sentenced to 15 years. Ramirez, the alleged ringleader, got 37.5 years in prison.

To bring light to their case, there’s a documentary in the works. Will it help spring them from prison? Will it remind the public the very real cost of fear and hysteria? How many more people remain in jail, convicted in the 1980s and 1990s of crimes they didn’t commit?

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