The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently opined on two major cases that have been awaiting review by the court.
The San Antonio Four
After serving fifteen years in prison and countless hours fighting to clear their names, the “San Antonio Four” were declared innocent by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals just before Thanksgiving.
Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh and Cassandra Rivera, along with Anna Vasquez were arrested and convicted in 1994 for allegedly sexually assaulting Ramirez’s two nieces. Though they were offered plea deals at the time, they refused and instead chose to rely on testimony to prove their innocence.
During the trial, inconsistency was revealed in both the alleged victim’s statements to police, and testimony by the physician who examined them. But prosecutors disregarded this and continued pursuing the charges. Specifically, the girls’ testimony on the timing of events and what weapons were used changed multiple times during the investigation and trial.
Regardless, the jury found the women guilty and sentenced Ramirez to 37.5 years in prison while the three others were sentenced to 35 years.
The truth began to emerge a few years ago when one niece, now in her twenties, came forward to say she had lied. She claimed that family members coached her to lie because they were angry with Ramirez for being a lesbian. She also said her father encouraged the lie in order to gain leverage in a custody battle. Following this revelation, the physician recanted her testimony saying that, based on new evidence, her old findings were medically inaccurate.
After a two-day hearing last year wherein both parties recanted their statements, a judge recommended the convictions be vacated, but refused to fully exonerate them without a full recantation from the second niece.
The Court of Appeals ruled that if the trial took place today, a reasonable jury would not have found the women guilty, considering the new medical evidence and testimony of the niece. The women are now seeking millions in compensation for being wrongfully convicted.
Temple, an Alief ISD high school football coach from Katy, was accused of shooting his pregnant wife. He is now serving a life sentence in prison following a 2007 conviction.
Following the murder, Temple married a woman with whom he was having an affair. During his trial, which took place five years after the incident, Harris County Prosecutor Kelly Siegler alleged his affair was motive for the murder. But on Thanksgiving eve of this year, the court said Siegler withheld important evidence.
Last year, a district court judge ruled that the outcome of Temple’s trial would have been different if the jury had access to 1,400 pages of investigative reports implicating another suspect. Siegler held this information back until late in the trial. The same judge found 36 instances of prosecutorial misconduct by Siegler during Temple’s trial.
Temple has now been granted a new trial and awaits either the prosecutors to appeal that ruling or proceed with the new trial. Temple’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin said he is now trying to get Temple out on bond.
Although these two cases had positive outcomes, there are many more that haven’t been as lucky.