"Excited" and "happy" is how the San Antonio Four are feeling after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals officially exonerated them of child sexual abuse on Wednesday after a 20-year fight. Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera, and Anna Vasquez were declared innocent after being wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting two of Ramirez's nieces, then aged 7 and 9, in 1997 in what the state's expert witness then described as a "satanic-related" ritual. The alleged victims told police in 1994 that the women, who are openly gay, assaulted them at Ramirez's apartment but their testimony varied wildly, reports the San Antonio Current. Ramirez was later sentenced to 37.5 years in prison, while the others were sentenced to 15 years.
Vasquez was paroled in 2012, while the others were granted bail a year later, after one of the two alleged victims recanted and the state's witness retracted her testimony. Earlier this year, a state district court judge overturned their convictions, which came at a time of anti-gay bias and "national hysteria … over satanic sexual abuse," reports KSAT. But the judges on Wednesday found the woman, all in their 40s, "have unquestionably established that they are innocent," and noted the father of Ramirez's nieces "has engaged in a pattern of threatening behavior towards the complainants and false allegations of sexual assault." "We have so much more to be thankful for," Rivera tells the Guardian, which notes each woman is now eligible to receive up to $80,000 for every year spent in prison. (Read more wrongful conviction stories.)