Saturday, November 16, 2013

SA4 to walk free: New Texas statute combats injustice caused by junk science

The Bexar County DA apparently has decided not to re-prosecute the "San Antonio Four" - four women convicted of child molestation now-acknowledged junk science and a pair of child witnesses, one of whom, now grown, has recanted saying her testimony was manipulated by a relative. Reported AP's Nooman Merchant (Nov. 15):
Three of four San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 could soon walk free after their attorney and prosecutors agreed that a key expert witness' testimony is now discredited.

Bexar County prosecutor Rico Valdez and defense attorney Mike Ware told The Associated Press on Friday that they agree the convictions of the so-called "San Antonio 4" should be vacated. A judge on Monday is scheduled to review findings of fact that will be sent to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

The women may be able to obtain a bond to allow them to walk free that day, Ware said.
Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh and Cassandra Rivera remain imprisoned. The fourth, Anna Vasquez, was paroled last year, but under strict conditions.
The four women:
were convicted in 1998 based on an expert's testimony that the 9-year-old girl had a scar in her vaginal area caused by the tearing of her hymen — which could only have been caused by a painful attack. According to a petition filed by Ware, the expert, Dr. Nancy Kellogg, also testified that the injury in question happened around the time of the alleged assaults.

Ware's petition cites a 2007 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics that found that "torn or injured hymens do not leave scars as a matter of scientific fact." Valdez said Friday that the mark Kellogg observed "would be identified as non-specific if she were testifying today," not as evidence of trauma.
The Bexar DA won't agree to the women's actual innocence but will agree to granting new trials, which ironically their office apparently will not pursue:
Prosecutors don't agree with Ware that the women should be declared formally innocent — a distinction that would allow them to collect money Texas pays to the wrongfully imprisoned. But Valdez said the women should be granted new trials "at minimum."

"Realistically, given the age of the cases, given the position as far as it's been related to us that one of the witnesses is recanting, it would be impossible for us to try to seek additional convictions," Valdez said. "And I'm not sure, based on what I know at this point, that that would be in the interest of justice anyway."
So the DA agrees retrials are warranted, but won't pursue retrials "in the interest of justice" but won't acknowledge their actual innocence claims. That's a CYA maneuver if I ever heard of one, allowing the DA to continue denying they secured false convictions against innocent women, even if that's how the evidence now reads. Still, it's great news that the three remaining women will soon be released.

The Wall Street Journal published a story today ("Gathering of forensic evidence goes on trial in Texas," Nov. 15) featuring the San Antonio Four case, attributing their release to a new Texas statute that your correspondent helped promote at the Legislature as part of my work on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas. Reported Nathan Koppel, the new
Texas law, which took effect in September, is part of a nationwide push to give convicted inmates a way to challenge forensic evidence presented as ironclad at trial—such as fiber particles and bite marks—but then deemed questionable by more-advanced analysis.

While people found guilty of crimes in Texas and other states have long been able to challenge their convictions by claiming new evidence demonstrates their innocence, judges often haven't regarded evolving scientific standards as grounds to review convictions. The Texas law specifically allows people convicted of crimes to bring fresh appeals by claiming that new science contradicts forensic evidence used in past trials.

The drive to retroactively challenge forensic evidence is still in its infancy nationally, but some legal experts believe it could eventually lead to the reversal of many convictions, as has happened with the use of DNA evidence to challenge past prosecutions.
Forensic evidence has come under greater scrutiny nationwide following a 2009 report from the National Academy of Sciences, which concluded that no forensic method, with the exception of DNA analysis, has been proved to reliably allow crime-scene evidence to be linked to a particular suspect. This past summer, the Federal Bureau of Investigation agreed to review more than 2,000 cases to determine whether hair analysis conducted by its experts was used properly in cases.
 Koppel added these observations about the new statute:
"If we possibly have a wrongfully convicted person in prison based on faulty science, we have a duty to review that," said Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who wrote the law.

Robert Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said many prosecutors have grown more aware of the limitations of science.

"I thought hair and fiber stuff was terrific when I used it," he said. "We find out now, maybe not so much."

The Texas law has already prompted a number of appeals.

Last month, a judge in Conroe, near Houston, recommended a new trial for Neal Robbins, who was convicted of murder in 1999, after a prosecution expert admitted that her inexperience in the field of forensic pathology played a role in her mistakenly concluding that he had asphyxiated his girlfriend's 17-month-old child.

Brian Wice, Mr. Robbins's lawyer, said the new law gives defense lawyers a weapon to counter the "CSI effect," in which jurors raised on TV crime dramas regard forensic evidence as truth, even when it arguably rests on suspect science.

Mr. Robbins remains in prison. Bill Delmore, an appellate lawyer with the Montgomery County district attorney's office, said prosecutors remain convinced of his guilt and believe he shouldn't be allowed to appeal just because an expert changed her opinion.

The San Antonio Four may be the most high-profile case to date impacted by the law.
The Montgomery DA may not think Mr. Robbins should get to appeal, but that's exactly what the new statute requires. Indeed, the trial judge not only thought Robbins should be allowed to file a new writ but recommended a new trial, which makes the DA's procedural complaint seem petty and self-serving, at best. It'll be up to the Court of Criminal Appeals - who narrowly declined Mr. Robbins relief in 2011 by a 5-4 margin before the new law was passed - to decide whether the trial judge is right that Robbins' conviction should be overturned. But at least now, thanks to Texas' new junk science statute, prosecutors won't be able to prevent the courts from considering habeas writs when new science contradicts expert testimony presented at trial. It's a big step forward.

MORE: Find below the jump the text of a just-released press statement from my employers at the Innocence Project of Texas related to the San Antonio Four case:
The Innocence Project of Texas (IPTX) is proud to announce that on Monday, November 18th, 2013, the “San Antonio Four”, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh and Anna Vasquez expect to be released from prison on bail. Bexar County officials and defense attorneys for the women agreed that a key expert witness’ testimony is now discredited.   
The four women were wrongly convicted for multiple accounts of sexual abuse in trials held in 1997 and 1998 and have maintained their innocence. The women all turned down favorable plea-bargains because they refused to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. Elizabeth Ramirez received a 37 and a half-year sentence and will not be eligible for parole for several more years.  While Anna Vasquez made parole last November and has advocated for the release of the other three since, they have all experienced delays in parole because they refuse to “admit” to crimes they didn’t commit. 

Widespread public support led to sponsorship by the National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ) and IPTX involvement in the case since 2010. An expert legal team headed by Mike Ware, an IPTX Board Member, recently filed writs of habeas corpus on behalf of the women. Along with the discredited expert medical testimony, one of the two alleged victims, now in her twenties, has come forward and confirmed that the crimes she and her sister accused the women of, never occurred.  

In addition to other new evidence of innocence, all four women have passed polygraph tests, administered by a highly respected examiner, establishing their innocence.  All four women have also submitted to psycho-sexual evaluations which have established that none of them are pedophiles nor are they predisposed to committing any sex offense. “In other words, not only did they not commit this offense, they would not have committed this offense,” Ware said. 

The writs are also among the first filed invoking the new “junk science” bill supported by the Innocence Project of Texas and passed in the 2013 Texas Legislature. 

"This is an historic case", said Jeff Blackburn, Chief Counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas. "This is one of the first examples of how Texas' new approach to reviewing old cases based on junk science will work, and one of the most significant. That is because it involves an area of forensic science that has not been looked at before and also because it opens the door to a review of other such cases statewide, just as we are doing in arson cases", according to Blackburn. "Texas is leading the nation by passing laws like the one this case has been brought under – a law IPTX championed – and allowing cases like this to be reopened. This is the beginning of a new chapter in the history of criminal justice in Texas and the nation.”

Although prosecutors are not ready to declare the women formally innocent, they do agree that the women should receive new trials. “It’s not the end...we have a ways to go in the case,” Ware said.  “It will be a huge day for all four women, and in particular, the three that are still incarcerated.” 

There will be a press conference on Wednesday, November 20th, where the four women will be available for comment.  For more information, please visit our website at


Fletcher said...

All the convictions getting overturned these days makes you think there should be some sort of criminal penalty for a so called "expert" who gives testimony and later comes back and says "I didn't really know that." If you are going to take someone's freedom away, you ought be sure about your testimony.

Anonymous said...

Psychiatrist, psychologist, and therapist have perpetrated many frauds on courts offering so-called "expert" opinions which are simply designed to favor the party who pays them. The SA4 case is similar to the so-called Mineola Swingers Club case. The foster parent who started all that mess was recently arrested and Michael Hall with Texas Monthly wrote an excellent article about how she has abused and manipulated those children. Yet, the Smith County DA has not taken any action to clear the names of those convicted based on this delusional woman's fantasy. In one of those trials a therapist testified that interview techniques used by a Texas Ranger who had no business interviewing children were just fine. No one who know anything about conducting forensic interviews with children would have agreed with her. Yet, this therapist still has a license and is free to continue spewing garbage in a courtroom. In how many insanity cases do we see on "expert" say the accused is insane while another says they are not. Can this really be called science?

Anonymous said...

Maybe one of these women will get a Bushmaster and set the record straight. Sure couldn't blame them and it would cause a quick change in the prosecutor mentality that they can do anything they want with complete impunity. The republican's mantra, after all, is accountability, and this would certainly hold them accountable.

Anonymous said...

Good to see the freak show commenters are alive & well.
Right on schedule

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yes indeed, 4:26, I'm afraid you're right. @3:51, I don't let rodsmith spew that garbage here so don't you do it, either. It's pointless, idiotic, and says more that's negative about you than the prosecutors.

Anonymous said...

What, a little too forward to suit you, or maybe too politically incorrect? The fact, I'll state it again, THE FACT is that more often than not it has taken an act of violence to force authorities to do the right thing. Take the Rodney King incident for example. After the cops who beat him were acquitted it took a violent riot (and a total of 54 deaths) before the feds acted and rightfully charged the cops with civil rights violations.

Now I'm not about to list every single incident of violence and the resulting actions taken by authorities to rectify the injustices which sparked the violence because it would take weeks and an entire website to do so.

And I don't for a second expect any one of these women to do as I espoused. But I am saying that if someone like Michael Morton sought vengeance for the outright criminal acts that stole his life and family from him, things would change quickly and for the better. The publicity generated would have everyone asking themselves "what would I do if it happened to me", and many of us would do exactly the same.

I apologize if the facts upset anyone or hurt your feelings. But it is a fact, and sometimes facts hurt.

Anonymous said...

Amen 08:49:00 PM. I do not condone violence, but how would any of us act if we or our sons or daughters were locked up in a Texas prison such as these women were for a crime they did not commit. Indeed Scott, if it were your son or daughter would you not entertain thoughts such as these?

rodsmith said...


now what would really be funny is if these 4 women now turn around and sue the DA to force a new trial that would use the new evidence!

Now grits you know I don't advocate violence just to cause violence. I simply know the USSC has said no govt agent operating outside the law has any legal protections against the use of force upto and including deadly force to stop them!

the kicker is that one part "operating outside the law" lot of wiggle room in there for crooked cops and criminal DA's and Judges! especially when their brother's are patting them on the head and saying they are operating in the law. Even when any retard who reads the law knows different!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Neither too forward, nor too politically incorrect, 8:49, just too dumb and counterproductive, especially from someone who suggests such things anonymously. This blog aims to participate in and promote legitimate policy discussions, not juvenile, Tarantino-esque revenge fantasies. Start your own blog if you think anyone cares to read such foolishness.

@10:31, if it were my own kin, no I would not entertain such thoughts because my goal would be to mitigate the tragedy instead of compounding it. But even if I did, I would reserve the good sense not to blabber every thought that entered my head, and the integrity not to suggest things anonymously that one would never write under their own name.

Many internet comment string suck and at several junctures I've considered eliminating them on Grits. I haven't because often commenters make excellent contributions and, for the most part (with notable exceptions), it's possible to discourage the crap - sometimes by just deleting the garbage, more often, as here, by just explaining the rules of the road to commenters who visit. People who've been falsely convicted aren't helped a whit by flame sessions in blog comments, and I'm doing this for their benefit, not yours.

Anonymous said...

We would not have a country much less a Fourth Amendment if the People had not resorted to violence. Are people to live their entire lives under tyrants because the tyrants don't respect the law, individual rights or reasoned and logical arguments?

As for the DA obstructing an actual innocence finding, they do have discretion not to prosecute, but the judge must sign off on their motion to dismiss. The defendants could move to proceed to trial and oppose a motion to dismiss. If the prosecutor did not then put on a case after the judge started the trial, a directed verdict of not guilty would be the result...presto, actual innocence is presumed with no way to overcome the presumption following acquittal by a jury. What elected judge is going to grant a motion to dismiss and not allow a defendant to establish actual innocence.

Anonymous said...

I have to wonder how many times has the Parole Board denied these women parole? If they came up for parole we already know they were denied because they are still in prison. If they have been denied parole, then I am to believe we need to hold the parole board legally accountable.

Pam Barone said...

Cameron Todd Willingham R.I.P. that is what so-called expert testimony will get you.

Anonymous said...

US was founded from an act of violence.

Anonymous said...

What does posting anonymously have to do with anything? Heck fire, Grits, several times each month you write about how the government tracks our every move. Why would anyone want their identity disclosed when posting negative comments about government employees. Perhaps you have forgotten how the IRS was put on the trail of those who disagreed with the current administration? More likely, though, you need a history lesson in the tactics used by the Nazis to squelch dissent. Personally, I wouldn't make it easy for government agents to know my identity anytime I posted anything negative. That's just asking to be placed on one of their lists.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you 03:47:00 PM. What does it matter if we post on here anonymously? Sott, for you to respond to 8:49 and his comments is your right.....absolutley. But for you to throw in there a negative comment about him posting it anonlymously is wrong. We all vote anonlymously, we have the right of free speech, and you made this a public forum for comments on topics you post. He didn't use any racial slurs or vulgar language. His comment mirrored the "hang all the politicians" saying and I don't beleive it was a call to arms for citizens to start shooting people. After all, this IS your blog and you set it up so people can post here without revealing their identities. He merely stated his was uncalled for you to call him dumb. Just because you don't agree with what everyone on here says doesn't justify you belittling them with comments such as those you made. Shame on you.....

Anonymous said...

Damn Grits...I have seen you defend people on here for posting anonymouly when people have called them cowards for not giving their names. WTF dude!?!

Anonymous said...

Damn Grits...I have seen you defend people on here for posting anonymouly when people have called them cowards for not giving their names. WTF dude!?!

Anonymous said...

Hi! My name is Craig and I am not an alcoholic.

Clicking the anonymous seems the easiest option.

I hate hearing stuff I don't like but after I heard it is too late.

At my trial there was a state expert chemist witness who said that hydriodic acid could be made by refluxing iodine and muriatic acid. - Said that he just read that.
He also claimed that meth cooks used aqua regia to clean glassware.
Persecutor even gave a bit of expert testimony that there was no such thing as a gold scratch test using the aqua regia.
My @#$% attorney didn't object to jury being give a picture of a jar of jewelers rouge with claim that it was red phosphorus.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

For the umpteenth time, I allow anonymous comments mainly because there are readers here who work for the government and can't comment on issues about which they're knowledgeable because they risk losing their jobs. Others may have pending cases or other legal situations that would restrict them commenting under their own names. That does NOT mean I nor anyone else need afford respect to cheap-shot artists who want to anonymously launch a flame war, advocate violence against public servants, or attack individuals behind a veil of anonymity like a six-year old taunting a sibling while hiding behind mommy's skirt.

People who comment anonymously in many cases have something to contribute but they don't start out with the same credibility as someone who comments under their own name. They must prove their credibility through the validity of their commentary. Many do, which is why I allow them. But that doesn't mean I have a lick of respect for people who abuse anonymity, enabled in childish or boorish behavior by the knowledge they won't be held personally accountable. I cut commenters more slack if they demonstrate a lack of character or judgement when they at least have the cojones to sign their name to their opinions.

And for those advocating violence, internet tuff guys are a dime a dozen. Show us, don't tell us. You first.

Anonymous said...

Very very lame response Scott.....

Anonymous said...

This is Scott's blog and as such he is somewhat responsible for the content posted by others. If he doesn't object to certain posts then readers could assume he holds those views himself. That said, I believe that at one time or another when reading about a tragic injustice everyone has had similar thoughts were we wished something a bit harsher than 10 days in jail upon the person responsible. I can't blame them and I can't blame Scott either for using his position to moderate comments. There is little doubt in my mind that Scott has also had the same wish at one point or another, but some thoughts are just better kept to one's self. There are a few prosecutors who read this blog and Scott wouldn't want to offend them to the point they stopped dropping by.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Paine first published "Common Sense" anonymously. Look at what that started.

Anonymous said...

It is easy for someone to say that they would "take the high road" in situations such as these. However, until you have personally had a loved one or you yourself (as is my case) wrongfully convicted of a crime and had false testimony presented by a police officer just so the D.A. could win his case, then who are you Scott to condemn people for thinking thoughts such as you are condemning? Because a police officer lied under oath on the stand it has cost me employment, housing, friends and has caused my wife and children to be constantly harassed. So, until you ACTUALLY go through something of this nature you should get off your high moral horse.

Anonymous said...


"Show us, don't tell us."- Scott Hanson 11/18/2013

Anonymous said... is oh so easy to spout moral righteousness and tolerance when you have never been persecuted and jailed. Funny...I remember the rant that Scott went on when he was stopped by the police for walking his granddaughter after dark. My how he protested and threw a fit then..and he wasn't even arrested. How would he react if he or one of his kids were sent to a Texas prison? Indeed us, don't tell us. You already failed that test.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm just checking back in here for the first time after my last comment.

To be clear, the person who wrote, "If he doesn't object to certain posts then readers could assume he holds those views himself" is 100% wrong. I don't moderate comments on the front end which is why the garbage about shooting cops, prosecutors, etc., sometimes gets posted on here. I occasionally delete those after the fact when they come from repeat offenders (hi rodsmith!) because they're not constructive and detract from more serious discussions. Usually, as here, I just ask commenters not to go there.

What I DO delete whenever I see them are a) comments that are per se libelous and b) off-topic comments attacking individuals not named in the post. In general, though, not only do I not moderate comments, I often don't even read them, especially after the first day or so. Sorry to break it to you, but I'm writing this for me, not you, and don't generally care that much what commenters have to say, particularly when they're only spouting opinion (much less bile) and contribute nothing of substance.

To all who complained: If you don't like how I run this blog, there's a simple solution: Don't read it. My shop, my rules. Don't like it, go away. I'm pretty sure I won't miss you.