A wrongfully convicted San Antonio woman will have a say over future evidence analyzers in Houston. Houston City Council voted to add Anna Vasquez to the board of the city's Forensic Science Center on Wednesday.
Vasquez and three other women — known as the San Antonio Four — served more than a decade in prison for the sexual assault of two underage girls. The state now says the crime never took place.
“Her case did hinge on some outdated — and I guess I’ll say inappropriate — forensic science information,” said Peter Stout president and CEO of the Houston Forensic Science Center.
“So she comes with an understanding of the consequences of forensic science that’s not done right.”
The nine-person board often holds a seat for someone wrongfully convicted. Anthony Graves — who served 18 years for murders he didn’t commit — preceded Vasquez on the board.
Vasquez currently works for the Innocence Project of Texas as director of outreach advocating for exonerees and justice reform.
Stout says exonerees remind people of the stakes of a wrongful conviction, a perspective needed on their board. Stout said Graves focused his board efforts on ensuring they did more to quality control for confirmation bias.
Vasquez, Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh and Cassandra Rivera were accused by two girls — aged 9 and 7 — of molesting them in 1994. The girls said it happened while staying with Ramirez, who was their aunt. The younger victim, Stephanie, recanted years later saying her father, Javier Limon, coerced them into making up the story.
According to Ramirez, the accusation came after she rebuffed romantic advances by Limon.
The four were convicted, in part, based on testimony from a pediatrician who said visible scarring to one of the girls hymens was proof of sexual abuse. This type of evidence would later be deemed inaccurate.
All of the women are gay and had come out to their families at the time of the allegations, a fact that the women said played a role in the conviction.
Vasquez is out of the country and unable to comment on the appointment, but speaking at TPR’s Worth Repeating in 2016, she said she cooperated with police in the investigation and throughout the process she expected a just outcome.
"I trusted in the justice system. I trusted my life with the justice system, and it was the biggest mistake I could have ever made," she said.
She was sentenced to 15 years for indecency with a child. She served 13 and was released on parole in 2012. But she said in 2016, the shock of being found guilty will always be with her.
“I’m still staring him and he says ‘guilty,’ and almost at the exact moment I heard a sob from behind me. It was my mother’s sob. And that’s the memory that I have, and it will be forever etched in my mind.”
In 2006, advocates with the National Center for Reason and Justice got involved. The case was one of several they argued were involved with national hysteria around satanic ritual abuse.
All four of the women’s convictions would be vacated in 2013. Mayhugh, Ramirez and Rivera were then released from prison.
The four were exonerated in 2016, two decades after being accused. Each one of the San Antonio Fours’ records were expunged in December. In Texas, exonerees are entitled to $80,000 per year of wrongful incarceration, meaning the state awarded each of them more than $1 million.