Attorneys: 3 of 'San Antonio 4' to soon go free

(AP) Attorneys: 3 of 'San Antonio 4' to soon go free
By WILL WEISSERT
Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO
Three of four San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were expected to walk free Monday after a judge agreed that their convictions were tainted by faulty witness testimony, their defense attorney said.

Attorney Mike Ware said in a San Antonio courtroom Monday that the three women still behind bars would be released on bond later in the day. Prosecutor Rico Valdez confirmed that an agreement he and Ware previously reached had been approved by a judge.

Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh and Cassandra Rivera were convicted in 1998 of assaulting two of Ramirez's nieces, ages 7 and 9, of successive attacks during a week in 1994. The girls testified that the women held them by their wrists and ankles, attacked them and threatened to kill them.

A fourth woman, Anna Vasquez, has already been paroled.

While the women were not formally declared innocent of the crimes, prosecutors in Bexar County have said they do not intend to retry them if the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals vacates the convictions. Ramirez was given a 37-year prison sentence. Mayhugh, Vasquez and Rivera were given 15-year sentences.

More than a decade after the women were convicted, their case came to the attention of attorneys affiliated with the nonprofit Innocence Project of Texas, which investigates potential wrongful conviction cases. Ware, who has worked on the case for two years, filed petitions on their behalf last month with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

They were convicted in 1998 based on an expert's testimony that a vaginal injury sustained by the 9-year-old girl could have been caused by an assault. According to a petition filed by Ware, Dr. Nancy Kellogg testified that the injury in question happened around the time of the alleged assaults. But her conclusions have since been discredited by current findings on science, attorneys have said. Kellogg declined an interview request last week.

"It would be identified as non-specific if she were testifying today," Valdez said last week.

Texas has passed several laws to add new safeguards for eyewitness identification, DNA testing and other issues in response to a rash of wrongful-conviction cases. Ware used one law passed this year to allow defendants to file appeals based on potential misuse of "junk science" _ something criminal justice advocates have targeted as a frequent cause of wrongful convictions.

Prosecutors don't agree with Ware that the women should be declared formally innocent _ a distinction that would allow them to collect money Texas pays to the wrongfully imprisoned.

____

Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant in Dallas contributed to this report.

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