The Miami Herald reported a story so crazy it could only have happened in Florida. A man, Claudy Charles, stands accused of intentionally setting his own car on fire in South Miami-Dade. If convicted, he faces second-degree arson charges… So, it’s up to a ragtag group of his peers and a hot-shot attorney named Stephen Gutierrez, whose specialized knowledge of exothermic science might be his only chance in this classic case of courtroom drama.
To help his client beat an arson case, a lawyer tried the old ‘spontaneous combustion’ argument…
As the 28-year old defense attorney presented his case before jurors, he claimed that the defendant didn’t intentionally set fire to his own car — but rather, it “spontaneously combusted.” Who hasn’t seen that age-old story played out a hundred times? Classic boy loves car, boy (allegedly) sets fire to car scenario.
When, out of nowhere, he, himself, spontaneously combusted…
During his closing arguments, he suddenly “… rushed out of the Miami courtroom…” Apparently, he’d been “fiddling” in his pocket when, unexpectedly, smoke began pouring from his pants “…leaving spectators stunned” as his right pocket burst into flames — possibly set ablaze by the burning irony of justice — causing him to flee like the man on fire. Been there, brother…
Later, with a visibly singed pocket and an explanation involving the faulty battery of an e-cigarette, our hero returned to find the jury missing from the courtroom. Reportedly, they’d been ushered out during his in-seam inferno and now he’d be robbed of his slow burning “ta-da” moment.
And In the end, he lost the case — so in the eyes of our justice system, the 48-year old defendant lit his own car on fire. Obviously.
His client was convicted of second-degree arson. Like the fella says, “it’s better to burn out than fade away” anyway… Oh, and as far as arsons go, second-degree is at least the second worst kind of arson there is, IMO.
In the ’90s, members of the LBGTQ community were finally starting to find some tolerance in mainstream culture. Most major cities around the world had a gay night scene and many small communities were being formed by lesbians and gay men. Unfortunately, LGBTQ people still encountered bigotry and homophobia regularly. From everyday altercations to murderous attacks, being gay in the ’90s was still dangerous.
That didn’t stop Elizabeth Ramirez from coming out and living her life as a gay woman. Although her hometown of San Antonio Texas was very conservative at the time, Ramirez was happily involved with her girlfriend, Kristie Mayhugh. The two were building a happy life together along with their close friends, Cassandra Rivera, and Anna Vasquez.
Unfortunately, devastating accusations would rock San Antonio and cost each women years of their freedom.
This is the story of the San Antonio Four and the horrible accusations and homophobia that led to their incarceration.
The events that led to their imprisonment started innocently enough. The four women were staying together at the time. It was 1994 when they welcomed Ramirez’s young nieces into their home for a weeklong stay. After the visit, the girls’ father went to the police and reported a truly horrific story.
According to the father, Javier Limon, the girls had been sexually abused and tortured by the women. More than that, his accusations claimed they had been gang-raped in a Satanic ritual and “indoctrinated into a lesbian lifestyle.” The nieces were only 7 and 9 years old at the time.
The girls were interviewed several times and gave inconsistent statements with varying details. Physical examination found no major signs of sexual assault. However, prosecutors used child abuse specialist, Dr. Nancy Kellogg, to argue the opposite. In now-defunct testimony, Dr. Kellogg blamed common vaginal wear on abuse by the San Antonio women.
The San Antonio police department claimed that the women’s sexuality was not relevant to the investigation. Yet, their actions argue the opposite.
This case was during the Satanic Panic of the 1990s. The public was obsessed with news of Satanic rituals and cults during this time. Homosexuality was often linked to these reports of rituals and sex magic. It was also a common thought at the time that homosexuals were more likely to sexually harm children. Had the four women not been recently-outed lesbians, the police more than likely wouldn’t have pursued the complaints.
Likewise, had the women not been lesbians, the complaints probably never would’ve been made to begin with. Limon, the girls’ father, was romantically interested in Ramirez. The San Antonio man was her brother-in-law but he had expressed desire for her before. Notably, when she was just a teenager. Ramirez had rejected him before coming out. However, her happy relationship with Mayhugh probably encouraged Limon to retaliate against the women.
Sadly, the San Antonio Four were tried and found guilty. They each received between 15 to 37 years in prison for a crime that had no proof.
It wasn’t until 2012 when any relief seemed likely for the jailed women. That year, one of Ramirez’s nieces recanted the allegations. Furthermore, she explained that her father, Limon, was to blame for the accusations. Her father, she said, threatened her and her sister as girls and continued the emotional abuse all their lives. This is what kept the San Antonio Four’s innocence a secret for so long.
In 2012, Vasquez was the first of the San Antonio Four to be released from prison. However, it was parole that released her, not her own innocence. It wouldn’t be until 2013 that the other three were released on bail while their guilt was reassessed. Later that same year, their sentences would be cut short and they would be declared innocent of all charges. The San Antonio Four were finally free.
Their struggle encouraged the documentary “Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four.” Now, you can stream the truth for yourself.
“Southwest of Salem” follows the redemption of the San Antonio Four. The documentary was released in 2016 but is now available to stream on both Hulu and Amazon Prime. It has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 100% Fresh and is scored 7.1/10 on IMDd.com. The documentary also won a Peabody Award and won “Outstanding Documentary” at the 2017 GLAAD Media Awards.
“Southwest of Salem” clearly deals with difficult themes. However, it’s an important documentary to see — especially as more cases of police and prosecutor misconduct become uncovered. If we know of the atrocities that have happened in the past, we can stop them from ever happening again.
Scot Peterson, 56, was the on-duty resource officer on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus on Feb., 14, 2018. That was the day that Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people in the school while Peterson remained outside never confronting the shooter. He is now in jail facing charges connected to his lack of response during the shooting, including charges of child neglect.
Scot Peterson was the on-duty armed guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida when 17 people were shot and killed.
According to reports, former Broward Deputy Peterson has been charged with 11 felonies because of his inaction during the shooting. Peterson, who is facing charges including child neglect, culpable negligence, and perjury, has long been criticized for hiding during the shooting. While 17 people were killed, Peterson can be seen on camera standing outside of the building and hiding from the shooter for 50 minutes.
The charge for perjury was added because Peterson, under oath, denied hearing gunshots when he first arrives at the building where the shooting occurred.
According to The New York Times, one student, Arman Borghei, said he looked out of a window and saw Peterson outside building 1200 where the shooting took place. Peterson allegedly had his gun drawn but was frozen in place doing nothing to locate and confront the shooter.
News of his arrest and charges has been met with celebration from people on social media.
“We cannot fulfill our commitment to always protect the security and safety of our Broward County community without doing a thorough assessment of what went wrong that day,” Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said in a statement about terminating Peterson. “I am committed to addressing deficiencies and improving the Broward Sheriff’s Office.”
People are also so over other people trying to give the former deputy a way out of the responsibility.
We have seen recent examples of unarmed people taking down gunmen to save fellow classmates and coworkers. Peterson was the armed guard on campus and some people argue that his lack of action led to a higher death toll that Valentine’s Day.
Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students are joining the online discussion to give people a face to attach to the tragedy.
Many of the students and their supporters are happy with Peterson being arrested for negligence allowing people to die. Families and friends who lost loved ones in the shooting at the Florida high school are waiting to see if the trial will unfold in their favor or not.
Check back with mitú as we cover the developments of this story.