Sexual assaults on children are understandably abhorrent to society and juries and taint a defendant’s reputation for years afterwards.
However, there are many factors that can lead young witnesses to make false statements. Children are susceptible to a wide range of factors and can be manipulated by prosecutors.
A case in point is that of the so-called “San Antonio 4.” The four women spent almost 15 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of the sexual assaults of two girls.
They were exonerated in November by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, reported CBS news.
The court ruled Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez were innocent of the crimes. Their criminal records will be expunged and they will be eligible to seek millions of dollars in compensation from the state.
CBS reported the four women were convicted of the crimes more than 15 years ago in 1998.
Two of Ramirez’s nieces, aged 7 and 9, accused the women of restraining them by the wrists and ankles, threatening them and sexually assaulting them in 1994.
Ramirez was babysitting and the three other women were at her apartment. One of the nieces later changed her story, saying another family member threatened her into making the statements to police.
Ramirez later testified she turned down marriage proposals from her nieces’ father, her sister’s former boyfriend. She believed the rejection may have angered him.
Ramirez received a 37-year prison sentence, while the other three women received 15-year sentences. Vasquez was paroled in 2012, and the other three women were released in 2013 after legal challenges were raised about expert testimony.
Judge David Newell wrote in the majority opinion in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that the women were innocent.
“Those defendants have won the right to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that they did not commit a crime. That they are innocent. That they deserve to be exonerated,” he wrote.
The ruling declares the four women’s “actual innocence” making them eligible to seek millions of dollars from the state under a law allowing each of the women up to $80,000 for each year they spent in prison.
Texas has a long and unenviable record of miscarriages of justice followed by exonerations.