For episode two of season two we discuss the case of the San Antonio Four. Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Anna Vasquez, and Cassandra Rivera were all accused of raping Ramirez’s two nieces in 1994 in the last gasp of the satanic panic era. If you enjoy this episode please visit our website bowtofate.com to stay up to date with current events and episodes.
Hello and thanks for listening to Bow to Fate- a podcast focusing on true crime with an emphasis on the flaws in our justice system. Today we are going to be discussing the case of the San Antonio Four, Elizabeth Ramirez or Liz, Kristie Mayhugh, Anna Vasquez, and Cassandra Rivera or Cassie. These four women were accused of raping two young girls who also happened Liz’s nieces, Vanessa and Stephanie Limon. This crime allegedly occurred in the summer of 1994 right at the tail end of the satanic panic era in our county.
Lisa Bryn Rundle is the host of CBC Podcast Undercover: Satanic Panic and she explains this era best.
1. Lisa Bryn Rundle, host of CBC Podcast Uncover Satanic Panic
Spurred by overzealous cops and suggestive interrogation tactics by prosecutors, parents, and therapists this time period led to a bunch of wrongful convictions. Some of these people are still in prison today, hampered by a system so entwined in red tape that it would willingly and knowingly leave innocent people in prison for crimes so outlandish they could not possibly be true. I mean some of these cases included stories of children being taken out on boats to watch babies pitched into the ocean to be devoured by sharks, or of babies being killed so adults could drink their blood, but those are cases for another day.
Today we focus on the travesties experienced by the San Antonio Four.
This case is complicated, not only by the accusations that were made by two young children, but also because the four women that were accused were also so very young. Three of the women were 19 and one had just reached 21. They were figuring out their lives and their sexual preferences so it complicated matters.
Elizabeth Ramirez was sixteen years old when she left her mother’s home. Things had become difficult and everyone thought it best that they take a break for a bit. She moved in with her sister, Rosemary, and her boyfriend, Javier Limon. Rosemary had three small kids at the time and she could use the help, but what she did not expect was the unwanted advances of Javier. He wrote her love letters and called her his little angel. Javier Limon promised he would take care of Liz forever and like many women in an uncomfortable situation, she brushed things off. Gave that nervous smile, never gave him any indication that the advances were wanted, but never completely shut them down either. Every woman knows this feeling, Liz was in an awkward situation and just didn’t want to make waves. Javier was with her sister, they had children together, and she was living there, so while nothing physical happened she endured his comments and love letters.
Liz had told her family of her interest in women and it only bolstered to further complicate issues within her family. In the early 90s the United States, let alone Texas, was not exactly a friendly place for gay people. More and more young people were coming out of the closet, but the world was just coming off the AIDS crisis and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” had just been instituted. While our country was becoming a safer space for the LGBTQ community, there were still too many children thrown to the wolves just because of who they loved. Eventually Liz moved into her own apartment, she now had the freedom to live her life the way she wanted to. When she moved into her apartment, Liz was dating a man named Hector, she felt that she was in love. Liz had also found a new family of good friends and during the summer of 1994 they often gathered in her apartment to share pieces of their lives.
Kristie Mayhugh had dated Liz for a short time, but eventually the two women decided that they were better as friends. She moved in with Liz just one week before her two nieces came to stay with them for a week. Both women were excited about the new arrangement, believing that it would allow both to live independently, but also a great way to save money. Kristie was raised by a single mother, her mother had taught her the importance of education in advancing yourself, and she was saving money to pay for the education she would need to fulfil her dreams of going to school to become a veterinarian and helping people, but when she came out as a lesbian, the relationship with her mother deteriorated.
When Anna Vasquez came out to her mother, she was lucky in a sense, her mother welcomed her with open arms. Anna was shy and soft-spoken, she had plans to go to college and become a nurse. She was working at Little Caesars saving money for college when Cassie Rivera walked in one day. They locked eyes and that was it, they knew that they belonged together. Cassie came from a religious family and she had married at a very young age. She had two children and just got a divorce when she walked into the pizza shop. She was just coming to terms with her sexuality and wanted to become a mechanic. Anna and Cassie started a relationship, and they seemed happy. From the documentary, Southwest of Salem, let’s listen to Anna’s mom talk about their relationship.
– 2. Southwest of Salem- Anna’s Mom
Anna, Cassie, Liz and Kristie became inseparable. Liz and Kristie’s apartment became the spot that they would all hang out at. Anna and Cassie along with Cassie’s children would often visit and spend the night at the apartment.
A week before Liz’s nieces came to stay with her on July 27tth, 1994, Liz was in a car accident and was taken to the hospital to be checked out. It was at the hospital that Liz found out that she was pregnant with Hector’s child. Their relationship had deteriorated at this point but they both agreed that they would have the child and Hector would be a part of its life.
Javier Limon’s advances had not stopped when she moved out and when his relationship with Liz’s sister fell apart, he became more aggressive. He found out Liz was pregnant and asked her to marry him, he even promised to help care for the baby. Liz told him that the baby’s father would still be in the picture and reminded him that she was gay, but her friends felt that maybe she was not doing enough to rebuke his advances, but Liz was walking a precarious line, she wanted to be there for her family and she loved her nieces, and truthfully it was not her responsibility to control Javier’s actions.
Javier Limon had sent Liz’s sister, Rosemary Camarillo, to Colorado with their three children. Javier Limon was supposed to have employment waiting for him in Colorado, but the work never materialized. Limon had traveled to Colorado to visit his girlfriend and children, he and Rosemary had a blowout argument. Rosemary said that Javier had pulled a gun on her and threatened to kill her in front of the girls. Javier then took the children back to San Antonio, Texas with him and he and Rosemary were battling over custody.
To gain leverage in the custody dispute, Javier made false accusations that a man in Colorado, who had never been left alone with the girls, had sexually assaulted them. Javier also made a false accusation that a non-existent 10-year-old boy in Colorado had sexually assaulted Liz’s younger niece, Stephanie. That accusation led to a police report and the examinations of the girls in 1992, but the investigation was ultimately dropped. According to Rosemary, Javier and his mother, Serafina, had also made accusations against others about sexually assaulting children from Javier’s other relationships. Those allegations were false; one of which turned out to be based on diaper rash. Javier found that by weaponizing child protective services he often got what he wanted. Rosemary was so frightened by Javier that she refused to return to Texas for the custody hearing, so full custody was awarded to Javier.
Now with custody of nine year old Vanessa and seven year old Stephanie, Javier Limon became more persistent in his advances to Liz writing more letters and telling her to call at specific times, not sure what to do, Liz eventually showed the letters to her mother, Gloria, asking for help in handling Javier. Gloria took the letters and called Javier and asked him out to breakfast. She confronted him in the restaurant, when he denied the accusations, she showed him the letters. He stormed off, without another word. Gloria said she called Liz that day and warned her to stay away from Javier and not to watch the children anymore. Liz, ever the optimist, did not want to do that. She wanted to maintain the relationship with Vanessa & Stephanie, they were her nieces, her family, and she loved them.
In the middle of July 1994, Javier called Liz and asked if she could watch the girls for a week or so. Javier knew that 21 year old Kristie Mayhugh had just moved in with Liz two weeks earlier. He knew Kristie was gay and knew that she and Liz had dated, he also knew that the relationship was over. Javier showed no concern in leaving his two girls with Liz for a week, knowing that all her friends would be helping to care for them. Despite being a week off of an accident, Liz agreed to have the girls stay with her. She was excited to have them. Cassie even brought over her children during the week so they could all play together. From the women’s accounts the week was business as usual, nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. They had gone to Walmart a few times, out to eat, and the women were in and out working their various jobs. At the end of the week the girls were sad to go home, but Liz was exhausted so she returned back to their father’s home. Liz, Kristie, Anna, and Cassie did not hear anything was out of the ordinary until a detective knocked on the door of Liz Ramirez months later.
Detective Thomas Matjeka, worked for the homicide unit, due to a shortage of detectives he was helping out the sex crimes unit. Homicide detectives push witnesses for answers, usually when they are investigating a crime, they have a body with proof positive evidence that a crime has been committed. They are more brash than a detective working for the sex crimes unit, who need to take a softer approach with victims and with the accused in order to find out the truth. Liz was nineteen years old when she climbed into the back of Detective Matjeka’s unmarked car to be taken to the station to answer a few questions.
In a small interrogation room with Detective Matjeka Elizabeth Ramirez first learned of the allegations against her and her friends. Obviously she was flabbergasted, she told Detective Matjeka that she had no idea why the girls would say such terrible things. She struggled to remember what exactly happened during the week Vanessa & Stephanie stayed with her. She could come up with no reasonable explanation, she told police that nothing of real interest had happened. The only thing she could think of was that Javier Limon was obsessed with her, and she had turned him down, but detectives were not buying that. Ultimately that day they released her, but told her not to leave town.
It was not until later that Anna, Cassie, and Kristie learned of the allegations. Anna and Cassie had a detective call them asking questions and Kristie was arrested at her mother’s home later that month.
The girls’ grandmother and Javier’s mother, Serafina Limon, said that, when the girls came home from the week with their aunt, they were subdued, scared, and refused to make eye contact. Sometime in the middle of September, Serafina noticed the girls playing with their dolls in a sexual manner, taking their clothes off and making them kiss. Serafina was appalled by the behavior, supposedly when she asked the girls why they were doing this, Vanessa told Serafina that she and her sister had been sexually assaulted at their aunt’s apartment by the four women.
Now, remember our last episode where we discussed the mousetrap study? Serafina was obviously angered by their behavior that day and kids can read people, the way in which they were questioned will obviously play into the truth that they will tell. Remember that a child’s mind works differently than an adults. They are more susceptible to influence from outside sources, including their father and grandmother. Kids also have a way of sliding the blame to someone else, in this instance, their grandmother was angry about the behavior they were exhibiting with the dolls, the girls sensed that angre and at that point it would not have been hard to create a false memory. Each time they had to repeat it they embellished more, they added different parts when they were given positive affirmations, just as any child would.
Serafina later stated that she called Javier and asked him to come home from work. It was at this time that he questioned his daughters, though now he states that he never asked them anything, and went and filed a police report.
Getting a coherent picture of the alleged assaults from the different versions provided by each girl takes considerable intellectual effort. There were multiple different versions of events, each one differing from the others, sometimes completely contradicting each other. And there are significant inconsistencies between the versions told.
The girls’ basic accounts were that the four women stripped them, held them down, fondled them, and stuck objects and liquids into their vaginas. The girls stated they were assaulted on two different occasions. The assaults were back-to-back the first time, Vanessa first and then Stephanie, and then simultaneously the next time. According to both girls, these assaults were completely spontaneous without any suspicious behavior leading up to them.
Vanessa said that the assaults occurred a few days into the visit to their aunt’s apartment. Vanessa and her sister were playing outside when both girls were called inside. According to Vanessa., the women began yelling things at her, Vanessa. was not consistent when explaining where Stephanie. was during the first assault; Stephanie was either locked outside, or in the living room. Vanessa was brought into Liz’s bedroom, where, according to Vanessa, Liz held her down while the other women started touching her; the four women did not touch each other, only her. Vanessa said she kicked and screamed as the women put stuff inside her vagina–liquid stuff, a powder, and “a tampon or something.” She said that it hurt. And after they finished, they told her to go take a shower. According to Vanessa, she heard Stephanie screaming and crying in the bedroom as she came out of the shower. Then, Stephanie came out of the bedroom with no pants on, and the women told Stephanie to take a shower. Vanessa then went back outside to play.
Vanessa said that the next time she was assaulted, it was again in the bedroom by Anna and Liz (and maybe Cassie), while Stephanie was assaulted in the living room by Cassie. Or, they were assaulted together. She made a statement that “they started putting some kind of stuff in us. Then they put liquid in us. Cassie was the one that put the liquid in me. They did this to Stephanie too.”
Stephanie’s account was similar with regard to the fundamentals of being held down and having things inserted into her vagina. But Stephanie said that, during the first assault, when she came inside, she heard Vanessa screaming in the bedroom. She tried to peek in. Then everyone came out of the bedroom, and she asked Vanessa if she was okay. According to Stephanie, Vanessa went outside to play, and the four women took her pants and underwear off and laid her down on the floor of the living room. Then, Cassie “put something in my private” while the other women were “holding me down.” Stephanie indicated that the second assault happened the next day in the living room, when “they put the same thing in my private.” Both girls said that they were threatened by the women though they were unclear about whether it was with a knife, a gun, or two guns, and whether it was by Liz, Anna, Liz and Anna, or Cassie and they were threatened to stay quiet and tell no one of the events.
While there appeared to have been enough consistency to barely cover the essential elements of a crime, the stories by themselves were weak and barely met the criteria for a charge. In the documentary, Southwest of Salem, attorney Keith Hampton discusses the girl’s recollection of the events
3. Southwest of Salem- Attorney Keith Hampton Innocence Project- Vanessa’s testimony
On September 28th, Javier took the girls to a clinic for sexual-assault exams. Dr. Nancy Kellogg, an expert in the science of physical findings associated with child sex abuse, took histories from the girls and examined them. She made physical findings that were consistent with the history of sexual abuse each girl related. At the time in 1994, they used a model of the vagina and hymen to determine normal from damaged, i.e evidence of sexual assault, today we know that this is junk science. There is no normal hymen or vagina each is different and a multitude of things can cause scarring along the edges, however today we know that sexual assault is not one of those factors. Unfortunately in 1994 Dr. Nancy Kellogg did not have this information. After the exams, she spoke with the girls and noted towards the bottom of her report, “possible ritualistic satanic abuse.” These words would condemn the four young women. 1994 was the tail end of the satanic panic era and homosexuality was not understood well in the general public. Investigators thought that they had a prime example of ritualistic abuse by a coven of lesbian witches willing to sacrifice young girls on the alter of lust. Not kidding those were the exact words that prosecutors used at their trials.
Detective Matjeka and the district attorney’s office became certain that Vanessa and Stephanie Limon were in fact sexually abused and that abuse was in line with satanic ritualistic abuse. Their certainty blinded them to the many, many inconsistencies in the girl’s stories. No one was even certain of the actual day that the assaults occurred.
Detective Matjeka brought Elizabeth Ramirez back in for questioning. This time he told her that the state was going to take away her unborn child. He drilled her on her sexual preferences and religion. Detective Matjeka told her that she didn’t admit to molesting her nieces he would have her baby taken away from her right then and there. Liz held strong, she knew that she had done nothing wrong, she was just stunned that her nieces would say these things. She again pointed the detective in the direction of Javier Limon and her unwanted advances, and again he dismissed the insinuation that Javier would level these accusations against someone simply because they did not like him.
He asked Liz about her friends and if they were capable of molesting children, not knowing how to respond and scared, she told him that she could not speak for them, but she would never do anything to her own sister’s children. Over and over again he brought up her past gay relationships and those of her friends. Liz could not understand how the two were connected at all. The detective strongly insinuated that gay people were child molesters and perverts. He then asked her to tell Kristie Mayhugh to come to the station for questioning and once again let her go.
A day or two before the police knocked on her door, Liz came home from work to a message from Kristie asking her to call Javier back. She picked up the phone and dialed his number, Javier was short with her, he said “I have something very important to tell you,” but before he could finish he got another call, he switched over and never came back. She tried to call him back to find out what could be so important, but he never returned any of her calls. Because Javier was not speaking to her, after the interrogation with the police, Liz’s brother and his wife tried to go over and speak to Javier and the girls to see what this entire thing was truly about. No one from Liz’s family believed that Liz was capable of the things the girls were saying. Javier refused to speak to them and he refused to allow anyone to see the girls.
On March 3rd, 1995 Liz gave birth to her son. His birth brought a renewed sense of joy and happiness into her life, it was son intense that she almost completely forgot about the false allegations levied by her young nieces. Unfortunately a mere two weeks after the birth of her son, police charged in and placed her under arrest and charged her with aggravated sexual assault on a child. Anna Vasquez, Cassandra Rivera, and Kristie Mayhugh were also arrested on the same charge.
Liz, Kristie, Anna, and Cassie were all booked into the jail. No one had a previous criminal record, and no one had ever been in serious trouble before. Their families banded together and got them all out on bail. They were tried in the media well before anyone reached a courtroom. Their lives became isolated as they waited to prove their innocence. The lawyer that had represented Liz in a civil suit for her car accident would be the same attorney to represent her in this criminal trial, Fred Ruiz. He told Liz that everything was going to be ok, that she had to trust him and try not to worry.
They learned that Liz was going to be tried first as the ringleader of the group. The trial date was reset numerous times over the next two and a half years. Liz was raising her son and Anna, Cassie, and Kristie were all a very big part of each other’s lives. Because of all the media attention they were drawn closer together and were surrounded by their families waiting for their day in court to deny these horrendous allegations. They all knew that they were innocent, so no one really felt like they had anything to fear. By this time they had all heard the allegations against them. They felt that the stories were filled with fantasy and even remarked that they read more like a bad lesbian porn film. Not something anyone would ever actually do, but something men assume they do. Vanessa and Stephanie Limon’s statements contradicted each other and drawing a clear picture of any one incident would require a mental feat of Mensa caliber.
In January 1997, the District Attorney came to Liz Ramirez with a deal. She would have to plead guilty to the assaults and in exchange she would receive 10 years of probation. She would have to file as a sex offender for the rest of her life. She immediately rejected the offer, she had no intention of pleading guilty to any crime, let alone one that never happened at all. The District Attorney let Fred Ruiz know that their intention would be to try Liz first on the charges of sexual molestation of Vanessa Limon. This is a strategy that DAs use in court, because there are two girls making the accusation, they can choose to split up the trials in the event that they lose the first, at which point they would still have a chance of conviction in the second.
Liz’s trial started on February 3rd, 1997, Fred Ruiz her attorney told her that she faced up to 99 years in prison if convicted. She was emotional and scared, but she held fast to her faith in the justice system. She had not done anything wrong, so how could she possibly be convicted. Her family were all there to support her, Javier Limon did not attend the trial.
When opening arguments began the prosecution made it clear that they were going to sensationalize this trial. It was a literal witch-hunt for them. They portrayed these four women as a coven of lesbian witches that had raped these children as an offering to their dark lord on the alter of lust and the DA pointed at Liz as the ringleader of the group. It was ridiculous, but again remember the time frame we are in. This is big news, for the last decade the media had portrayed trials of day care workers ritualistically abusing children, drinking their blood, and eating babies. Many of these people were homosexuals. Unfortunately human nature is to fear things that you do not understand, when faced with a lifestyle that was different than their own, parents talked and kids hid around the corner and listened. When the stories were created and repeated and expanded on, overzealous prosecutors, detectives, and therapists ferried these cases through the court system. At any point in the chain someone could have stopped it, someone could have pointed to the reason and stopped the hundreds of wrongful convictions that were to come, but no one did. Now San Antonio has a satanic panic case of their own and the general public was enthralled in the drama.
When now twelve year old, Vanessa Limon walked into the courtroom to testify she smiled and waved at her Aunt Liz, not understanding the gravity of the situation. When she took the stand, just seconds after waving and smiling at her Aunt, she told the jury a story of being held down by her Aunt Liz, while Anna, Cassie, and Kristie inserted objects in her vagina. She claimed that Liz had downed tequila and smoked weed with her friends, then she said that Liz held a gun to her head and said “If you ever tell anyone, I will kill you”. Her story had changed several times over the course of her interviews. Sometimes there were weapons, sometimes the times changed, who participated, what happened. Each time something more outlandish was added. Fred Ruiz did a good job with inconsistencies, but the DA stood up and explained the inconsistencies away, she is a young girl who has gone through a traumatic event. He argued that yes some parts of the story may be embellished but the core had not changed. He followed that up by calling Detective Matjeka who testified in regards to the several sworn statements that he had taken from the girls, their father, grandmother, and others in the case.
Serafina Limon, Javier’s mother and the girl’s grandmother, took the stand next. She explained how she noticed the girls’ behavior was off after they returned from the weekend with their aunt. She highlighted their inappropriate behavior with the dolls and how she learned their harrowing account. Even her testimony was inconsistent with what she had provided in her sworn statements.
The fourth and final prosecution witness was Dr. Nancy Kellogg. She had examined the girls on September 28th, 1994. Dr. Kellogg testified that during her exam she noted that Vanessa’s hymen had been ruptured and noted the scarring which she testified was proof of sexual abuse. On cross examination Dr. Kellogg did state that the injuries could have occurred up to 6 years ago, but her testimony was still damaging.
When the defense had the opportunity to present their case, they only had one witness to call, Liz. She took the stand and vehemently denied all the allegations. The prosecutor brought up her sexual orientation multiple times and tried to paint her as a pervert. The exchange was heated, and when Liz continuously denied all the allegations, the DA responded “Ok OJ” and sat down.
The jury took less than an hour to find Liz guilty. When the foreman read the verdict Liz’s mother, Gloria, screamed “NO” and had to be removed from the courtroom. Liz was numb and in disbelief when the read the sentencing, 37 and-a-half years for aggravated sexual assault of a child and 15 years, to run concurrently, for indecency with a child.
With Liz in jail the District Attorney turned to Kristie Mayhugh, Anna Vasquez, and Cassie Rivera. They were offered the same deal of 10 years probation in return for guilty pleas. Even with Liz being convicted, no one was willing to admit to a crime that never happened. Anna and Cassie even fired their original attorneys for badgering them regarding the plea. They would accept their fate at trial and all agreed they would never admit to something they had not done.
Kristie, Anna, and Cassie would be tried together in February of 1998. During jury selection a lot of emphasis was placed on their sexual orientation. They spoke about being gay as if it was a disease and something to be feared. During the trial they were made out to sick perverts because of who they loved. The prosecutor painted a picture of a coven of women who walked around naked and had orgies together.
Stephanie Limon testified at their trial, her story was wildly different from that of her sister, but again the prosecutor brushed it off. The victim was young and the story may be slightly different due to their age and the stress of the circumstances. Again Dr. Nancy Kellogg testified about her findings of sexual assault. Kristie, Anna, and Cassie all attempted to declare their innocence and denied that any of these things happened.
They tried to get their attorneys to include psychological testing, but there was no money and their counsel doubted it would help with the allegations.
When the jury were sent to deliberations the jury came out on three separate occasions stating that they could not reach a verdict. Each time the judge instructed them to go back and try to resolve their differences. Finally the jury was sequestered for the night. The next morning, Valentine’s Day, the jury met in the morning for thirty minutes and came back into the court with a guilty verdict. Anna, Cassie, and Kristie were each sentenced to 15 years for aggravated sexual assault of a child and 10 years for indecency with a child.
The women appealed the verdict and were allowed out on bond while they awaited the outcome of their appeals. While on bond they tried to investigate the case on their own. They attempted to find witnesses at the apartment complex or evidence to dispute Stephanie & Vanessa’s claims, but by this time the apartment complex had been torn down.
In an interview with the San Antonio Current, Cassie recalls their investigations after their conviction.
4. SA CURRENT- Interview-Cassie- Why they tried to find the apartment
After two years their appeals had all been denied or exhausted and in July of 2000, they each surrendered themselves into custody to begin serving their individual sentences.
They were separated from each other for the first time in years. Prisoners were not allowed to write correspondence to each other, so they lost their friendship while the suffered alone, each knowing that they had done nothing wrong. The only communication they were allowed was with their individual families.
In an interview with San Antonio Current, Anna reads a diary entry she wrote while in prison.
5. SA CURRENT- Interview-Anna- Dear Diary- Time in Prison- Javier
They were all dealing with their convictions in their own ways. When it seemed to get dark Liz decided to sign up for a program called “write a prisoner” and in 2008, a decade into her sentence, she found an unlikely pen pal that would help to bring their case to the light.
Darrell Otto lived in the Yukon Territory in Canada. He was a biologist, but on the lonely nights in the cold he would research cases that interested him. When he read over the case of the San Antonio Four things just did not make sense. He wrote to Liz through the “write a prisoner” program and listened to her side of the story, he then started to communicate and visit with Kristie, Anna, and Cassie.
In his research he found that the circumstances surrounding the crime were highly unlikely. Most abuse involving women typically follows a teacher/student pattern, where normally an older woman in a teacher role becomes involved with a younger pupil. Having a gang rape was highly unusual. After speaking with Liz, Cassie, Anna & Kristie, Darrell decided that he was going to petition the National Center for Reason and Justice, which was created in the wake of the 1980s-era satanic ritual abuse scandals to advocate for people wrongfully accused of harming children. The information about the case ended up with Debbie Nathan, a journalist who regularly vets cases for the organization. Otto then published an article in the Texas Monthly about the women and the unusual circumstances in which they were convicted.
With momentum moving in the right direction Debbie Nathan from the National Center for Reason and Justice was reviewing the case and the testimony of Dr. Kellogg jumped out to her. She knew that the testimony that Dr. Kellogg made at trial regarding the tears in the hymen had been completely discredited, so she brought the case to the Innocence Project of Texas and incredibly in November of 2010 they agreed to accept the case. The media that had crucified them in the 90s was now working in their favor, public opinion had changed and several newspapers started to question the veracity of the conviction. With the facts of the case circulating in the media, everyone started to wonder how the San Antonio Four were convicted with such ridiculous evidence.
While all this is happening on the outside, inside the prison walls Liz, Anna, Cassie, and Kristie are dealing with their convictions. They understand on the outside they now have the media and the innocence project working on their release, but inside they still have to deal with their status as convicted child molesters. They are required to enter the sex offender program, while they refuse to participate as each declares that they are not sex offenders, completing the program is a requirement for release on parole. Anna Vasquez has a parole date approaching and she is dealing with the fact that it will be denied because she refuses to participate in the program.
On the outside a growing number of advocates were working to figure out and re-investigate their case. In August 2012, Stephanie Limon came forward and filmed a recantation “I remember everything Javier coached me to say, as well as my grandmother. I’m sorry it has taken this long for me to know what truly happened,” she said. “You must understand I was threatened, 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. I will make things right, and I am sorry for everything I put you through. I was only 7, and I was scared.”
In the documentary, Southwest of Salem, Mike Ware of the innocence project meets with Stephanie Limon in a café
6. Southwest of Salem- Mike Ware meets with Stephanie Limon
After Stephanie, who was now 25 and a mother herself, started to ask her father Javier questions about what had happened, things did not line up the way she remembered. She had fond memories of her time with her Aunt Liz and she told her father that she was going to tell the court that she did not actually remember any of the things she testified to. And then an allegation was filed with Child Protective Services that she and her husband were fighting violently in front of their young children and that was grounds for removal to foster care. Reports to CPS are anonymous, but Javier does have a history of weaponizing CPS for his own purposes. Though there is no proof that he filed the complaint as punishment for Stephanie’s recantation and the sudden poor media attention now being directed at him, it cannot be ruled out as a possibility.
Javier Limon told reporters that his daughter didn’t recant because she suddenly changed her mind about what happened to her, but that she threatened to recant to hurt him, because they had recently been fighting. Javier said that Stephanie had taken advantage of his kindness.
The documentary, Southwest of Salem, met with Javier Limon and interviewed him
7. Southwest of Salem- Javier threat or not
He specifically stated that it wasn’t a treat, but you can judge for yourself. Just an FYI, Stephanie won her custody battle.
In November of 2012, to the amazement of her attorney’s with the Innocence project Anna Vasquez was released on parole. She was a convicted sex offender and there was an ever-growing list of rules that she had to follow: no cell phones, no computers, no contact with anyone under 18, but she was free and she had not forgotten about her friends. Liz, Kristie, and Cassie were still in prison and she was on the outside. Although she was once the shy member of the group she now had to become their advocate. So in her free time she spoke to anyone who would listen about their case and what had happened to them.
Roughly a year later, in late October 2013, attorney Mike Ware filed writs for all four women. Though he mentioned Stephanie’s recantation, and mistakes made by police and lawyers involved in the original trial, his primary argument was that Dr. Kellogg’s testimony was inaccurate, since the medical understanding of what constitutes evidence of sexual abuse had changed. Dr. Kellogg told the Bexar County District Attorney’s office that her initial claims at the trial were now outdated and now that new scientific evidence is available and with a new understanding of the findings that she wouldn’t offer the same testimony today.
In September of 2013, Texas passed a new state law had taken effect, it made it easier to challenge convictions based on outdated forensic evidence. Dr. Kellogg’s admission suddenly undermined the key evidence in the case. The District Attorney, Susan Reed, agreed that the women could be released on bond pending further review of the case. She advised that she would not be retrying the case and that the women would not face sex offender restrictions after their release.
On November 18th, 2013 Anna Vasquez traveled to the county jail to meet her friends. After waiting all day for the women to come out. The emerged from the jail holding hands with the arms raised up. Cassie met her granddaughter for the first time and hugged her children, Liz hugged her son for the first time since entering prison in 1997. It was amazing to finally be free, but as happy as they were to be out, they still wanted the court to state that they were actually innocent.
They would have to wait another two years before the exoneration trial began in April 2015 State Judge Pat Priest began the proceedings. He had been the presiding judge in Anna, Kristie, and Cassie’s original trial. He listened to all the new evidence that had been unearthed since their original conviction. He also heard Stephanie Limon recant her original testimony. Vanessa Limon still refused to recant her statements. Dr. Nancy Kellogg testified that the examination methods used to examine the girls in 1994 were no longer scientifically sound, and she told the court that she would not have made those statements knowing what she knows now.
The innocence project based much of their argument for actual innocence on the new legislation that allowed an appeal based on “Junk Science” i.e science that we now know was not based in fact. Unfortunately, in the documentary Southwest of Salem it appeared Judge Pat Priest disagreed with them
8. Southwest of Salem- Judge Pat Priest not junk science
In February of 2016 Judge Pat Priest delivered his ruling. He agreed that Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Anna Vasquez, and Cassandra Rivera deserved new trials, but he stated that their claim of actual innocence “fell short of the mark”. He cited the fact that only one of the accusers had recanted in defending his ruling.
The ruling was immediately turned over to the Texas Court of Appeals and on November 23rd, 2016 the overturned, Judge Priests ruling declaring all four women actually innocent. According to Texas law, each woman would receive $80,000 for each year they were wrongfully imprisoned.
All four women today work to help clear the names of others that have been wrongfully convicted. They have been able to overcome such incredible bias, fight against a social system that has been weaponized by bad actors, win their freedom and clear their names. Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera, and Anna Vasquez are amazing women, faced with even the worst odds they refused to back down. They lost a huge portion of their lives, but now that their names have been cleared they are working to make this world a better place, I commend them.
Whew this case has been a difficult one, but I really appreciate you taking the time to listen, make sure you join us next time for episode three of season two. If you haven’t visited our website you can find us at bowtofate.com, where you can find the transcripts for this episode or donate to keep us up and running. I want to thank DJ Brooks for providing the show with music and artwork, I love you honey. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook or send a tweet to @Bowtofatepod and if you get a chance please subscribe to our podcast to stay up to date with current episodes. Feel free to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions for upcoming episodes or call and leave a voicemail at 725-222-FATE, you may just end up on the podcast. Till next time, stay safe and keep listening.