March 17, 2017 — The crime the four women, Elizabeth Ramirez and her friends Anna Vasquez, Kristie Mayhugh and Cassandra Rivera were accused of was horrible — the group rape of two young girls. The accused, young Latina women who were openly gay and living in San Antonio, Texas, asserted their innocence from the very beginning.
The 1994 allegations against the women kept changing, as did the stories that were presented by those making the accusations. Despite that fact, and despite a complete lack of actual evidence, the woman were put on trial and found guilty.
To forward their case, prosecutors used junk science and allegations that children were often preyed upon by Satanists. Debbie Nathan, who wrote Satan’s Silence, stated “This case is the last gasp of the Satanic ritual abuse panic.” That panic found numerous communities making false claims of abuse against people — frequently people who were marginalized because of their religions, backgrounds or sexual tendencies.
Cinema Axis states “San Antonio held a modern-day Witch Trial of four lesbian women. Friends Anna Vasquez, Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh and Cassandra Rivera, often referred to as, “The San Antonio Four” found themselves accused of gang-raping Vasquez’s two young nieces. Southwest of Salem uses home video, local news footage, and interviews with the people involved to conjure up a story of bigoted persecution to rival anything in The Crucible. The film casts fundamental doubts on the legal system by documenting both its potential for abuse and its reliance on the dominant ideas of a culture – even the irrational ones.”
One of the accusers recanted; several changed their stories over time. Jose Limon, the father of one of the girls, had accused another person of raping two of his other daughters. None of that seemed to matter. The judge presiding over the case didn’t let most of this information into the trial.
The women would be convicted (they refused any kind of plea deal, stating unequivocally that they were fully innocent) and would spend 15 years in jail (they would be exonerated in 2016, after the film was completed, although the DVD and the Blu-ray include a “post-exoneration featurette).
Deborah S. Esquenazi directed this compelling and acclaimed documentary that shows how a community can convict the innocent on the basis of junk science, mythology and homophobia — and how the most vulnerable segments of society are the most likely to find themselves the victims of prosecutorial excess.
The acclaimed documentary Southwest of Salem: The San Antonio Four is available on DVD or Blu-ray, or you can stream it immediately on Amazon Video.