SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR, opening in NEW YORK on SEPTEMBER 16 at CINEMA VILLAGE.More often than not, when we think about our legal system today, perhaps the word that comes to the mind of many is “Injustice” How much does personal belief, whether religious or political, sway the decision of a DA’s office or a jury. My husband recently served on a jury here in Manhattan, on a relatively well known case. After his month long ordeal, he stated, “In some alternate universe, if I was ever thinking about breaking the law, well, God help me. A jury of my peers is anything but.” He explained that the particular jury he served on contained individuals who slept during proceedings, doodled in their notebooks, sighed audibly in court, and verbally fought to be excused on a daily basis. He cannot imagine what it would have been like had he been the defendant. In a very important documentary, SOUTHWEST OF SALEM, four women, who happen to be lesbians, were convicted of a heinous crime based upon a modern day witch hunt. In Texas, their jury was most certainly not comprised of their peers.
“The San Antonio Four” — Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez. They are four Latina lesbians wrongfully convicted of gang-raping two little girls in San Antonio, Texas. However, the evidence was never there. The San Antonio Four continues to fight against mythology, faux-science, homophobia, and the prosecutorial fervor in their continuous struggle for exoneration in this riveting ‘True Crime’ tale. The suffering, outlandish, and baseless accusations caught one man’s attention who helped to garner the support of the Innocent Project.
In 2012, writer Maurice Chammah‘s New York Times coverage “Fighting to Exonerate Texas Women Convicted of Child Sexual Assault ” goes into details of the four women’s ordeal. In February 2016, Texas-based Judge Pat Priest released the ruling that these women are entitled to new trials but not exoneration. The fight to free the innocent continues.
Directed by filmmaker journalist Deborah Esquenazi, this emotional documentary first made its big splash earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival and received audience accolades. It recently garnered Grand Jury Award at 2016 Outfest and Outstanding Documentary Jury Award at the 2016 Frameline Film Festival.
This film is so essential in aiding these four innocent women in their complete exoneration. In the 80’s and 90’s there existed this idea that satanic cults were operating inside day cares and preschools. This strange concept infiltrated DA and child protective service offices across the country. The suspects brought forth in these cases were predominantly homosexual or suspected to be so. In this case in particular, the children were labeled as being “offered up” as “sacrificial lambs”. Anna states the bias was ripe through the prosecution, essentially telling the jury, “this is what gay people do.” One man, a professor in the Yukon, gets wind of this story. A man named Darrel Otto, goes to bat for these women, reaching out to Liz Ramirez, then contacting The Innocence Project of Texas. The ball starts rolling. Changes in science, recantations, the changing of the times, people are finally getting on board with the truth. But the road is long and slow. These women need our help.
Watching this documentary is devastating. The lives impacted by these lies, the damage done. I cannot imagine the heartache of Anna, Liz, Cassie, and Kristie, and their loved ones have endured during these many long years. What these four beautiful, strong women, need more than anything right now, is your support, belief, and fight. Call, text, tweet, share their story. They deserve new trials. They deserve complete exoneration. They deserve justice.
You can find out more about this extraordinary story by seeing the film now in New York, and September 30th in LA. Investigation Discovery has recently acquired the television rights and will be airing the film in October, if you’re unable to make it to the theaters.
SOUTHEWEST OF SALEM- by Deborah S. Esquenazi
OPENING SEPTEMBER 16– NEW YORK- CINEMA VILLAGE
SEPTEMBER 30– LOS ANGELES – LAEMMLE MUSIC HALL BEVERLY HILLS
HERE ARE SOME CLEAR STEPS YOU CAN TAKE RIGHT NOW TO HELP THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR WITH THEIR EXONERATION BATTLE
1. Call 1-210-335-2311 and ask for District Attorney Nico LaHood’s office.
Here’s what to say: “I am angered by Judge Pat Priest’s ruling to not recommend exoneration for Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Anna Vasquez, and Kristie Mayhugh. I want Nico LaHood and the District Attorney’s office of Bexar County to take a stand on the San Antonio Four case to declare actual innocence and have the women exonerated for their wrongful convictions.”
2. Tweet/Facebook the district attorney’s office to take a stand!
Twitter: @BexarCounty @Nico4DA Take a stand about the @SanAntonioFour injustice! Recommend exoneration #FreetheSA4 @IPofTexas #southwestOfSalem
Facebook: I am angered by Judge Pat Priest’s ruling to not recommend exoneration for Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Anna Vasquez, and Kristie Mayhugh. I want Nico LaHood and the District Attorney’s office of @Bexar County to take a stand on the San Antonio Four case to declare actual innocence and have the women exonerated for their wrongful convictions. #FreetheSA4 #SouthwestOfSalem