Monterey Bay Justice Project

Anna Vasquez, Texas woman exonerated after nearly 20 years of legal battles, visits CSUMB for documentary screening

Photo by: Ryan Sigala
Texas exoneree Anna Vasquez on stage during the event.

By Alex Jensesn

“Where did the story come from?” Anna Vasquez, a former Texas inmate of 12 years, asks as she stares out the bright screen with piercing eyes. “All I can do is speculate.”

Preceding CSUMB’s screening of the documentary, Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four, Vasquez opened the event to share the made-up stories that would leave scars on her life forever. Vasquez’s story could have happened to anyone, just as it did to her 19-year-old self, fresh out of high school. Vasquez, one of four women falsely convicted in the case of the “San Antonio Four,” was a resident of the west side of San Antonio and a member of a largely Catholic family. Coming out as a lesbian at 18-years-old, Vasquez told her mom of her sexual identity.

CSUMB’s screening of Southwest of Salem was on Nov. 29 at 6 p.m. at the University Center Ballroom on the CSUMB campus. Sponsored by the Otter Student Union Programming Board and the School of Humanities & Communication, the event was hosted by the Monterey Bay Justice Project. The screening featured a campus visit by Vasquez and was followed by a questions and answers segment, which was well attended by about 100 students and community members.

Over her high school career and time as a young adult, Vasquez grew close with three other women, all who recently came out as gay: Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera, and Elizabeth Ramirez. “Growing up as an open gay woman, you get that,” Vasquez said, speaking to the harsh looks people would give her and her friends. The four stayed together frequently; at the time of the allegations, false charges of child gang rape over the course of two days were brought against the “San Antonio Four” for having raped and molested Ramirez’s two seven-year-old and nine-year-old nieces, who were staying with Ramirez at the time.

The stories came after pressure from Javier Limon, Ramirez’s former brother in law and the father of the two girls. Stephanie Limon Martinez, a seven-year-old at the time, testified that the four women held her and her sister at knife and gunpoint and forced them into sexual acts. In 2010, years after her 1994 testimony, Limon Martinez recanted at 25 years old, stating that her father had been abusive growing up and had threatened to send her to jail or beat her if she didn’t testify. This moment was huge in validating Vasquez, Ramirez, Rivera and Mayhugh’s claims to innocence.

Photo by: Ryan Sigala
Anna Vasquez answers questions after the screening event.

Exonerated after serving 12 years in prison before being released on parole, Vasquez recalled the integral role the Innocence Project of Texas played in her case. Today, Vasquez works with the Texas Innocence Project to overturn other wrongful convictions. Proving the “San Antonio Four” innocent, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued the following statement:

“Those defendants have won the right to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that they did not commit a crime… These women have carried that burden. They are innocent. And they are exonerated.”