These Latinas Spent More Than A Decade In Prison For A Crime They Say They Didn’t Commit

In 1994, San Antonio, Texas, was hit with a case that would change the lives of four young Latinas. Anna Vasquez, Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh and Cassandra Rivera were charged and later convicted of gang raping two young girls aged 7 and 9. For years, they maintained their innocence. Twenty-two years later, the documentary “Southwest of Salem” is trying to expose the alleged bias and mishandled investigation that may have put four innocent women behind bars for more than a decade.

For the past 22 years, these women have been living a nightmare. They’ve been fighting against allegations that they gang raped two young girls in 1994.

Credit: @mySA / Twitter

Anna Vasquez, Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh and Cassandra Rivera all claim they are innocent — but that didn’t stop them from serving jail time.

It all began when Ramirez, second from the left, was watching her two nieces, ages 7 and 9, for a week.

Her three friends — Vasquez, Mayhugh and Rivera — came to stay with Ramirez during that time. When the week ended, the nieces returned home, and the four women had no idea anything was wrong with Ramirez’s nieces.

“It was a typical week, just what families do,” Ramirez told CNN. “We did things, we went out to the park, we ate, just kind of hung out.”

Things took an unexpected turn when the nieces began accusing the four women — who were all lesbian — of sexually assaulting them as part of a Satanic ritual.

Credit: Southwest of Salem / Lesbian Lips / YouTube

All four women were eventually arrested. During questioning by police, they realized their sexual orientation was going to be used against them.

Credit: @HSDocClub / Twitter

“When we were being questioned by police, they made a point to put it out in there that we were gay,” Anna Vasquez told The Guardian.

Their defense attorneys were also pessimistic about winning the case. They felt it was a losing battle to go against the word of two young girls who were making such serious allegations.

During their trial, prosecutors also pointed out their sexual orientation as a motive for the crime.

Credit: Southwest Of Salem

Prosecutors relied heavily on two things during the trial:

1) The appearance of scar tissue in one of the niece’s internal membrane tissue.

2) The women’s sexual orientation since all four had recently come out as lesbian.

According to CNN, the prosecutors used their closing statements to point out the sexual orientation of the women and urged that being lesbians gives motive for the attack. In Ramirez’s case, which was separate of the other three women, prosecutors talked about her sex life in explicit detail. The jury foreman for Ramirez’s case was a minister who openly said that homosexuality was wrong on religious grounds, according to My San Antonio.

All four women were convicted of the rape of Ramirez’s nieces.

Credit: Southwest Of Salem / Lesbian Lips / YouTube

Vasquez, pictured above, Mayhugh and Rivera were all sentenced to 15 years in prison each.

Ramirez, the aunt to the accusers, was considered the ringleader and received 37.5 years in prison.

Credit: The Texas Tribune / YouTube

In total, the four Latinas were collectively sentenced to 82.5 years in prison.

The four women all maintained their innocence. Ramirez told police officers and her attorney that the allegations were made up by her nieces’ father.

Credit: The Texas Tribune / YouTube

Javier Limon, the father of Ramirez’s nieces, was her sister’s ex-boyfriend at the time of the visit. After the relationship with Ramirez’s sister ended, Ramirez claims that Limon insisted on trying to court her romantically. When she refused, Ramirez says he tried to get revenge by coercing his daughters to make up false claims about Ramirez and her friends.

Ramirez’s claim was strengthened in 2012, when one of the accusers came forward and recanted her statement.


Credit: @_micj_ / Instagram

It set off a chain reaction that would help the San Antonio Four. Everything from the testimony of the accusers to the science used to convict was all reexamined. One of the most important pieces of evidence was also proven to be inaccurate as the science of testing rape cases advanced.

One of the nieces, Stephanie Limon Martinez, released a statement saying she had no recollection of the crime.

Credit: bluecabinfilms / YouTube

Instead, she recalls her father, Javier Limon, pressuring the young girls to make up the story and stick to it — or face punishment. “I was threatened,” Stephanie Limon told The Texas Tribune about her father, Javier Limon, forcing his daughters to testify against their aunt. “And I was told that if I did tell the truth that I would end up in prison, taken away and even get my ass beat.”

Enter Deborah Esquenazi, the director of the documentary “Southwest of Salem.”

Credit: @TWCNewsSA / Twitter

When she heard the story of the San Antonio Four, Esquenazi was moved to create a documentary about their decades-long battle. “I got a call from my mentor, a woman named Debbie Nathan, who said, ‘You should look into this,” Esquenazi told NYMag. “So I read Liz’s trial transcripts, and they were horrific. They included phrases like ‘gang rape,’ ‘cult-type activity,’ ‘a certain perversion,’ and it was all very sexualized.

“When I finished reading, I was broken. Then she sent me a VHS tape that they had recorded on their search for exculpatory evidence, and I was like, oh my God, this is a story not just about injustice but about a family torn apart.”

As of April 2016, the four women have been released from jail — on bond, not as free women. They are all up for a new trial.

Credit: @andactionnow / Twitter

Their goal is to be completely exonerated. “I think the only reason that the investigation was seriously pursued, why there wasn’t more skepticism about the preposterous allegations in the first place, was because these four women had recently come out as gay, that they were openly gay,” Mike Ware, their defense attorney told CNN.

“Southwest of Salem” recently played at the Tribeca Film Festival, bringing even more exposure to the case.

Credit: @SanAntonioFour / Twitter

The women are fighting to have their names cleared and the charges removed from their records.

“I believe we deserve to be known as innocent. There is a terrible injustice,” Rivera told CNN. “We are not going give up until we are found we are innocent. We will keep fighting.”

Watch the trailer for “Southwest of Salem”:

Credit: Lesbian Lips / YouTube

READ: Video Of Teen’s Gang Rape Uploaded To Social Media Sparks Outrage In Brazil

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Texas High Schoolers Conducted a Mock ‘Slave Auction’ Of Black Students Over Snapchat

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Texas High Schoolers Conducted a Mock ‘Slave Auction’ Of Black Students Over Snapchat

Photo via Getty Images

Students at a high school in Aledo, Texas are being disciplined after the administration discovered they held a mock slave auction on Snapchat where they “traded” Black students.

Screenshots of the Snapchat group show that these unnamed students “bid” on students of color, ranging anywhere from $1 to $100.

One student in particular was priced at $1 because his hair was “bad”. The screenshot also shows that the group chat’s name changed regularly. The group’s name started as “Slave Trade” then changed to “N—-r Farm”, and finally to “N—– Auction”.

Upon learning of the mock slave auction, the Daniel Ninth Grade Campus’s principal wrote a note to parents explaining the situation. Principal Carolyn Ansley called the mock slave auction “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment” which “led to conversations about how inappropriate and hurtful language can have a profound and lasting impact” on people.

Many people felt that the school principal downplayed the gravity of the mock slave auction. Not once did she mention the word racism in the letter that she sent out to parents.

“Calling it cyberbullying rather than calling it racism… that is the piece that really gets under my skin,” said Mark Grubbs, father to three former Aledo ISD students, to NBC DFW. But Grubbs, along with many other Aledo parents and community members, say that the incident didn’t surprise them.

In fact, Grubbs said he had to take his children out of the Aledo ISD school system because of how much racist harassment his children were facing. “A lot of racism,” he said of his son’s experience at the school. “My son being called out of his name and what not and it got to the point he didn’t mind fighting and that didn’t sit right with me and my wife. My son was never a fighter.”

After the backlash to the initial statement, Superintendent Susan Bohn finally released a statement condemning the racism and “hatred” of the mock slave auction.

“There is no room for racism or hatred in the Aledo ISD, period,’ Bohn wrote. “Using inappropriate, offensive and racially charged language and conduct is completely unacceptable and is prohibited by district policy.”

The problem with “policies” like these is they fail to target the issue of racism at the root. Hate speech may be “prohibited”, but if a child is displaying racist behavior for whatever reason, the bigger problem is the way that they have been educated and indoctrinated. Slave auctions have no place in 2021.

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Texas Republicans Are Recruiting An ‘Army’ of Poll-Watchers To Go Into Black and Brown Precincts To ‘Fight Voter Fraud’

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Texas Republicans Are Recruiting An ‘Army’ of Poll-Watchers To Go Into Black and Brown Precincts To ‘Fight Voter Fraud’

Photo via Getty Images

The GOP’S voter-suppression tactics in Georgia have been gripping the nation. But now, the media is also turning its attention to other voter-suppression tactics in the rest of the country. Now, Texas Republicans are taking the heat.

According to Common Cause Texas, Texas Republicans are planning on recruiting thousands of volunteers create an “election integrity brigade”. They want the “brigade” to go into Black and brown neighborhoods in Houston and “fight voter fraud”.

A Texas GOP presentation was leaked that outlined plans to send an “army” of poll-watchers to Black and brown precincts.

“I’m trying to encourage and recruit, as a precinct chair, about 30 people in my precinct who will have the confidence and courage to come down in here…,” said an unnamed GOP official, pointing to majority non-white urban areas, “…in these areas where we really need poll-workers. Because this is where the problem is occuring.”

“So me finding poll-watchers out here, it helps, but it’s a pretty safe precinct”. He said this while pointing to majority-white Houston neighborhoods.

The video inspired outrage among people who saw these tactics as blatant attempts to suppress the voting rights of POC.

“The impetus for releasing [the video] right now is there are some bills in the legislature that seek to empower poll watchers in some really scary ways,” said executive director of Common Cause Texas, Anthony Gutierrez, to NBC News. “And also at the same time, take away the power of the presiding judge at the poll site from being able to remove a disruptive poll watcher.”

“It’s very clear that we’re talking about recruiting people from the predominantly Anglo parts of town to go to Black and Brown neighborhoods,” said Gutierrez to The Washington Post.

“This is a role that’s supposed to do nothing but stand at a poll site and observe,” he added. Why is he suggesting someone needs to be ‘courageous’?”

This “election integrity brigade” comes on the heels of a problematic election bill the Texas Senate just passed.

According to NBC News, the bill “bans overnight early voting and drive-thru early voting” and also “empowers partisan poll watchers.”

“It’s part of the intimidation, the confusion, the antics that (the Republican Party) has engaged in for so many generations that culminated in President Trump asking people to overturn the election,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo to CNN.

“What they’re doing is filing bills that are essentially a poll tax that weaponize the election system against our own voters,” she continued. “And what they’re proposing is absolutely tragic and reminiscent of the worst of what we’ve seen in Texas and across the South since Reconstruction.”

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