SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR


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Director Deborah S. Esquenazi has done a service by making a film exposing the horrors of a glaring 1990s case of injustice in Texas. Four Latina lesbians were convicted of raping two young girls and given long prison sentences in what bears the marks of trumped-up charges. After spending nearly ten years in prison, the women, now free after a court ruling for a new trial, are seeking exoneration, which the court did not grant them.

The accusations were fueled by talk of “Satanic related sexual abuse.” The women tried and sentenced are Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh and Anna Vasquez. The film holds that the women did not rape the two girls seven and nine years old, but were convicted on the basis of anti-gay bias and false testimony.

The documentary details the story of the women, their relationships, the use of junk science to get a conviction and the heroic efforts to set the record straight. Among those who participated in a campaign to free the women is the Innocence project of Texas.

The film unfolds like a detective story, with details increasingly pointing to the bizarre, prejudicial case built against the women, two of whom were lesbians living together. As with other cases of injustice, the courts and prosecutors are reluctant to admit error. Part of the problem involves a young man who had a crush on one of the women and resented being rejected.

There are assorted interviews included by director Esquenazi, and the case is well-explained. We learn details about the women and their lives and get a sense of how accusations can gather force fueled by blatant prejudice and fear. Credit is also due Debbie Nathan, a journalist who wrote about the case, and stimulated the director’s desire to make te film. A Naked Edge release. Reviewed September 17, 2016.








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