Things That Matter

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Ricky Martin Opens Up On Being A Queer Latino And Talks New Music In Powerful New Interview

Entertainment

Ricky Martin Opens Up On Being A Queer Latino And Talks New Music In Powerful New Interview

Mike Windler / Getty Images

Ricky Martin has long been an international superstar – even long before ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ took over virtually every airway in the world. But it’s hard to deny that with that song, the Puerto Rican singer entered the global mainstream and ever since he’s been a pop icon.

From being one of the first major pop stars to publicly come out as gay, to acting in popular TV series, and getting married and becoming a father of four, Ricky Martin has always been a very busy man.

And despite a global pandemic that has forced all of us to stay at home and find a ‘new normal,’ Martin has forged a path forward. He recently sat down for an interview with Billboard to discuss everything from new music, the global Coronavirus pandemic, and his identity as an out and proud gay Latino.

Considering we’re all still living amid a global pandemic, the Billboard interview started on this very relevant topic.

Billboard points out that Martin and his family live in a very big and beautiful house in Beverly Hills, which likely makes staying at home a bit easier compared to the rest of us. However, Martin points out that he has a very loud home – with four kids and his mom all living under one roof. But he admits, “…I am very lucky. I am in a comfortable home where my kids can play.”

Ricky Martin is also working on new music. He released Pausa in May, and now as he works on new music the world is a very different place. He told Billboard: “I started working on my music maybe nine months ago. In my mind, the album was going to be called Movimiento, which means movement. But with all this [pandemic], it just told me… “The way it was, was not working. Let’s do it differently.” I have music with rhythm, but I was not going to tell people to move! So I named it Pausa.”

He also speaks about his close relationship with fellow Puerto Rican, El Conejo Malo.

Shortly after Billboard released its history-making cover with Bad Bunny on the the cover, Martin described San Benito as a “Latin queer icon.” Many people – of all backgrounds – took issue with that. But Ricky Martin tells Billboard that “allies are so important. Without them, our fight for equality is impossible. It really tickles me to see Bad Bunny as a gay icon — just like Cher could be. Why not?”

The Puerto Rican singer shared what his coming out experience was like and reveals he never tires of sharing it.

In the interview, Martin is very open about his coming out as gay. The singer came out as gay in 2010, married husband Jwan Yosef in 2017, and together the couple is raising four children.

Rolling Stone asked Martin, 48, what it was like to remain closeted during “the most public, exposed period” of his life.

“I had moments of extreme positivity, and not so positive [moments],” Martin answered. “Life was a bit on steroids in those days. Everything was really intense, but I could take it! I come from a school of military discipline when it comes to training for music, dance, and acting. I started when I was 12. So for me, it was about not being ready to open [up]. When you open an egg from the outside, what comes out is death. But when the egg opens from the inside, what comes out is life. It’s something that needs to come from within. Every time someone forces someone to come out, what you’re doing is you’re destroying the natural flow of the self-discovery.”

When asked what motivated him to come out publicly, Martin said that a kid somewhere in America needs to see positive headlines about coming out.

“Today I woke up to this beautiful headline that I know someone out there is in need of. The headline was something like, ‘I came out. And ever since I’ve been the happiest.’ Something like that, something… My heart is beating faster because I know today a kid somewhere in America woke up needing to hear those words. A lot of people say they get tired of talking about the same thing. Why would I? Are you kidding me? For so many years I had to keep it inside. And then the effect of someone… What people are getting from it in their healing process?”

Billboard also asked Martin his feelings on how the media is profiting and accepting Puerto Rican and Latinx culture.

When asked if he feels that the American media has gotten better or more open to understanding Puerto Rican culture, Martin responded: “We certainly have a long way to go, but the important thing is that we see that there’s an audience that is interested. And it’s up to us to bring [the] education.”

And he’s absolutely right. This year has seen several Latino artists rise to the top of all sorts of charts. Bad Bunny and J Balvin are among the most streamed artists globally and Bad Bunny is one of the most streamed artists on YouTube as well.

Meanwhile, Maluma and Jennifer Lopez are working on a film that will be out early next year. The Emmy’s, VMAs, and other award shows finally had decent representation of artists of color – particularly among the Latinx community.

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Police Identify, Arrest Man Accused Of Destroying Beloved Jesus Statue In El Paso Church

Things That Matter

Police Identify, Arrest Man Accused Of Destroying Beloved Jesus Statue In El Paso Church

El Paso Police Department / elpasodiocese / Instagram

An important Jesus statue in an El Paso church has been destroyed and police have arrested the suspect. The statue in St. Patrick’s Cathedral was taken down and decapitated and the person police suspect to be responsible has been arrested.

Earlier this week, a 90-year-old Jesus statue was decapitated by a vandal who destroyed the St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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We are saddened to announce the vandalism at St. Patrick Cathedral earlier today. The Cathedral was vandalized this morning at around 10:00am. A suspect came into the sanctuary at St. Patrick Cathedral and destroyed the almost 90-year-old statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was located in the center behind the main altar of the church. The church was open and available for prayer. A suspect has been detained by the El Paso Police department. The police are currently continuing their investigation into the vandalism. The Rector of St. Patrick Cathedral, Fr. Trini Fuentes, said, “I am in shock and we at the Cathedral are heartbroken over such an unexpected situation.” Bishop Seitz also expressed his sadness about the damage caused to the historic Sacred Heart of Jesus Statue. “This statue is one of my favorite representations of Jesus—his arms open wide in welcome, his heart aflame with love for us. I would often take inspiration from this image as I prepared for Mass.” “As sad as I am to see a statue attacked and destroyed, I am grateful that it was not a living person,” Bishop Seitz added. “But a statue, particularly this statue, concretizes and connects us to persons and ideals that are not visible to our eyes. They reveal to us realities that are close to us, but unseen,” he said. “At this point we do not know anything about the person who carried out this assault, but he certainly must be a person who is greatly disturbed to have attacked this peaceful place in our city and this image of the King of Peace. I hope this might be the impetus for him to receive the help he needs. He will be in my prayers,” Bishop Seitz added. “I am devastated at this irreplaceable loss as I know members of this parish community and the whole Church of El Paso will be. In this moment we will reach out in confidence to the One this statue represented and I know he will console us,” Bishop Seitz concluded. St. Patrick, Patron of Ireland and our Diocese, Pray for us.

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The community was rocked when the damage was reported. The statue has been behind the church’s main altar for decades. The vandal attacked the statue at around 10:00 a.m. when the church was opened for prayer when the vandal attacked.

El Paso police have arrested a man in connection to the vandalism.

According to a press release from the police department, 30-year-old Isaiah Cantrell has been arrested for the vandalism. The damage to the statue is estimated to be about $25,000 and Cantrell’s bail has been set at $20,500. El Pasoans are angered at the man for destroying the irreplaceable statue.

“This statue is one of my favorite representations of Jesus—his arms open wide in welcome, his heart aflame with love for us,” Bishop Seitz said about the destruction of the historic Sacred Heart of Jesus statue. “I would often take inspiration from this image as I prepared for Mass.”

Statues like the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue are important to communities that are used to seeing them. The destruction has left clergymen and parishioners angered and saddened by the loss of the statue. It is a historic part of the El Paso religious community having overseen masses since before World War II.

The Diocese of El Paso is raising money to help St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The funds raised by the Diocese of El Paso and the Foundation for the Diocese of El Paso will be used on the St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The money raised will be used to fix the shattered statue as well as add security and do renovations to the famed church.

“I am devastated at this irreplaceable loss as I know members of this parish community and the whole Church of El Paso will be,” Bishop Seitz said. “In this moment we will reach out in confidence to the One this statue represented and I know he will console us.”

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