Monday, September 17, 2012

Atrocity: Twelve years behind bars--and one of her accusers now admits she didn't do it

As reported here:

A woman who has spent twelve years behind bars for sexually assaulting her two nieces in 1994 may be set free after one of the girls is now claiming it never happened.

Elizabeth Ramirez was sentenced to 37-and-a-half years prison and her three friends were given 15 years after the two children, then aged 7 and 9, told police the women forced them into a debauched, orgy-like nightmare.

But one of the girls, now 25, has recanted the serious claims that put her aunt and friends Kristie Mayhugh, Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera behind bars so many years ago, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

'I want my aunt and her friends out of prison,' the younger niece, who wanted only to be known as Stephanie, said.

'Whatever it takes to get them out I'm going to do. I can't live my life knowing that four women are sleeping in a cage because of me.'
Ramirez and Rivera were just 20 when they were arrested and friends Vasquez and Mayhugh were 19 and 22 respectively.

None of the women had ever been in trouble with the law and the women have always vehemently denied the claims.

Ramirez was labeled the ringleader by her nieces and was handed a prison term more than double that of her friends.

She therefore has the most to gain from an exoneration in that it would free her from a sentence that doesn't end until 2034, when she would be 60 years old.

Rivera, 37, has never has held her one-year-old granddaughter, the Express-News reported while Mayhugh and Vasquez have missed the funerals of loved ones. Ramirez, 38, who was pregnant at the time she was accused, hasn't seen or spoken to her son since going to prison when he was two.
'I never want to be bitter and angry,' Ramirez said in a prison interview. 'Regardless, God always says you gotta love and you've got to forgive.'

The women didn't believe Stephanie recanted the accusations until their attorney showed them a typed summary of his meetings with the young woman.

'At first I was like, "Are you serious?"' Ramirez said. 'I didn't think they had anything on paper.'

But Stephanie's change of heart may not ultimately lead to the legal exoneration of the women and they face a long court battle to clear their names.

However, the friends are quietly confident justice will be done.

'I know the charges against us are not taken lightly. But can they please keep looking into this?' said Vasquez, tears welling in her eyes.

'Maybe it's been put into [Stephanie's] heart to finally tell the truth. I thank God that she's come forward. They painted us as monsters.'

Stephanie had told police that her aunt and her friends had violently turned on her when she and her sister were visiting Ramirez's one-bedroom apartment in the summer of 1994. But she now says that never happened.

According to the Express-News, the nieces described to police and later to jurors how the women called them into the apartment, where they were getting drunk and smoking pot, two of them lounging around topless, and held them by their wrists and ankles, repeatedly violated them, threatened to kill them and their families, then let them take a shower and go about their day.

But Stephanie now says the visit was uneventful, even 'boring.'

First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg told the news website that it's too early for him to take a position on the case. But he said their ears were open.

'We are more than willing to listen to anything they have to say,' Mr Herberg said. 'It's paramount that justice is done, whatever that is.'

Stephanie revealed that her recantation has ruined her relationship with her sister, who hasn't been named. She added that she hasn't spoken to her aunt since she was imprisoned.

'Does she know I'm trying to help?' Stephanie asked a reporter. 'I can't take back what I did, but if I could talk to all of them in one room I would just say I'm sorry. I'm sorry for ruining them.'

(Thanks to JH)