Earlier this year, I wrote a piece in Provincetown Magazine about the documentary Southwest of Salem, which followed the case of four San Antonio lesbians who were imprisoned on suspect charges in the 1990s. Their case was taken up by the Texas Innocence Project, who also took part in the film. I had the opportunity to interview all of the women and the film’s director and producer. I am happy to report a good news update on their cases: all four were exonerated. Here is the press release on this huge victory, not only for these women, but also for LGBTQ rights:
AWARD WINNING DOCUMENTARY FILM
“SOUTHWEST OF SALEM – THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR”
CITED IN COURT DECISION
CLIP OF SAN ANTONIO FOUR’S RELEASE FROM PRISON THREE YEARS AGO:
Wednesday, November 23, 2016, Austin, TX – Filmmaker Deborah S. Esquenazi woke up to a phone call from attorney Mike Ware of The Innocent Project of Texas telling her the great news that “The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday that the women known as the “San Antonio 4” be declared innocent and exonerated.” This sentence was stated exactly in the court decision this morning.
The San Antonio 4 – Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez – four Latina lesbians wrongfully convicted of gang-raping two little girls in San Antonio, Texas over 20 years ago during the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s-1990s are the subject of Esquenazi’s award winning documentary film, “SOUTHWEST OF SALEM – THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR.” Despite flawed medical evidence and convictions based solely on testimony of two young girls, the women always maintained their innocence. The film chronicles their story and their fight for justice over the past two decades.
The film weaves together emotional interviews with the women and their families with actual news footage and home videos, equally showcasing the injustice of the situation and the families that were torn apart as a result. Unique to the San Antonio Four case, none of the four women ever took a plea bargain or even considered it, despite serving their time in separate prisons. While the state offered deferred adjudication, requiring no time in prison but probation for ten years, the women turned down the offer, maintaining their innocence and faith in truth and justice. And now they are totally exonerated and declared innocent.
The documentary, along with articles written in Rolling Stone, The Texas Observer, and the New York Times, was cited in the opinion section of the court’s decision.
“This is a stunning victory, not only for the San Antonio Four, but for gay rights,” states director Esquenazi. “I couldn’t have imagined that six years ago, with nothing more than a camera and shoe-leather persistence, that this day would come. It shows the power of art. It shows that even with no cultural capital, power, or resources, we can make great change.”
“SOUTHWEST OF SALEM” has won numerous awards at festivals across the globe and has come away with great reviews. It was recently honored by the Broadcast Film Critics Association with the Critic’s Choice Award for Best First Feature. It is also one of the 145 films that has qualified for this year’s Best Documentary Feature Academy Award®.
“A big congratulations to the extraordinary Innocence Project of Texas, whose singular commitment to truth was part of this great victory,” adds Esquenazi. “It really is a great day for justice in Texas—and a magical Thanksgiving for all of us.”