Sitting in the prison where she’s spent nearly half of her life, Elizabeth Ramirez is stunned by the words that could help exonerate her and three friends of the sexual assault of her two nieces, a crime she said she couldn’t fathom let alone commit.
It never happened, one niece now says of the debauched, orgy-like nightmare that she and her older sister described to San Antonio police in 1994 when they were 7 and 9.
“I want my aunt and her friends out of prison,” Stephanie, 25, said by phone last week. “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.”
On and off the witness stand, the sisters changed their accounts of the timing, the use of weapons, the perpetrators and other basic details of the assault every time they told it to authorities, records show.
It was one of several red flags raised in the Express-News investigation published in December 2010 that also delved into concerns about the scientific legitimacy of medical evidence used against the women, whether anyone looked into a previous rape allegation made by the girls and if anti-gay views prejudiced Ramirez’s jury.
The graphic tale told by witnesses, sparked concerns about Satanism. It occurred at the tail end of the Satanic Panic, a widespread concern largely prompted by a fictional book about Satanic Ritual Abuse. But, it was not true:
A study published in 1992 by Kenneth V. Lanning—a Supervisory Special Agent at the FBI Academy—came to the same conclusion: there is no good evidence for a single case of SRA. Lanning has investigated SRA since 1981.
If there are thousands of baseless accusations, how do they originate? Most of them are said to originate with children. Since there is a widespread belief that children wouldn’t make up stories of eating other children or being forced to have sex with giraffes after flying in an airplane while they were supposed to be in day care, the stories are often taken at face value by naive prosecutors, therapists, police officers, and parents. Yet, the researchers found that children are unlikely to invent stories of satanic ritual abuse on their own. They get lots of help from therapists, district attorneys, police investigators, and parents. There is ample evidence that therapists and law enforcement personnel encourage and reward children for accepting the suggestions of bizarre abusive behavior. They also discourage truth by refusing to accept no for an answer and forcing children to undergo interrogations until the interrogator gets what he or she is after.
What an awful mess was made of all these lives based on what? Potential lies and misinformation? Faulty evidence? If so, chalk up more victims to a manufactured crime. It’s not clear if the recant of the testimony will lead to their exoneration.