“We thought it was going to be a cakewalk.”
“Southwest of Salem” director Deborah S. Esquenazi had planned to end her documentary with the happy exoneration of the San Antonio Four. Unfortunately, the case is still ongoing, despite mounting evidence of injustice.
In 1994, four Latina lesbian women — Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh and Anna Vasquez — were wrongfully accused of gang-raping two little girls in San Antonio. The accused were released from prison when one of the girls recanted, and some of the forensic evidence were debunked in 2012 and 2013. The women have yet to be exonerated, though, and their freedoms are still curtailed.
Esquenazi filmed the hearings for ID’s documentary “Southwest of Salem” and felt that the evidence was presented “so meticulously” that the four women’s innocence would be apparent. “But the hours passed, and the judge got more ornery,” she said at the Television Critics Association panel for the film on Monday. “I told them, ‘This is the end. It does not look good.’”
Trying to decide when to end filming was a difficult decision at that point. “That preoccupied me a lot,” she said. Eventually she decided to just take her film and launch it. “Hopefully the audience will mobilize with us.”