Criminal Justice

Were women convicted in 'ritual abuse panic'? Junk science law aids their release

Three women who were convicted of sexually abusing two girls have been released from prison, thanks to a new “junk science” law in Texas.

The women were accused of abuse in 1994 at a time of headline-making ritualistic abuse cases. They were released on bond on Monday through a deal with prosecutors after the law allowed evidence that discredited a doctor’s testimony, NBC News, Reuters, the Guardian and the San Antonio Express-News report. If the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals grants a new trial, the District Attorney’s office will decline to prosecute.

The women released on Monday were Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Elizabeth Ramirez. They spent more than a decade in jail. A fourth defendant was released on parole last year. Known as the San Antonio 4, the women were accused at trial of holding down the two girls, touching their breasts, and pouring liquid and white powder into their vaginas. The convicted women have continued to proclaim their innocence.

The younger girl now tells defense lawyers and the media that the attacks never happened.

A child abuse expert had testified at trial that one of the girls had a scar on her hymen that indicated abuse; scientific advances now show that torn hymens don’t leave scars, a lawyer for the women, Michael Ware, told NBC. “In a crime where the defense was, ‘It didn’t happen at all,’ the scar was probably the most important piece of evidence because it said it did happen,” Ware told NBC. The girls’ testimony had many inconsistencies, he said.

Author Debbie Nathan says the allegations of group abuse, an injected liquid and a lot of screaming were typical in day-care-abuse cases in the news before prosecution of the San Antonio 4. “I call this the last gasp of the ritual abuse panic,” she told NBC.

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