Exoneration for Satanic Panic Victims?

Via Doubtful News, I find that there is a development in one of the last of the “satanic panic” cases. In 1997, Elizabeth Ramirez and three of her friends were charged with sexually assaulting Ramirez’s two young nieces. All four women were convicted, and Ramirez received a sentence of 37 ½ years as the supposed ringleader.

It appears that the conviction hung largely on the testimony of the two girls. Now one of those girls has stepped forward to say that they were lying. By convention, newspapers do not use the names of sexual assault victims, but the young woman is willing to be known as Stephanie. From the San Antonio Express-News:

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.”

Sixteen years into a 37½-year sentence, Ramirez prayed for such a turn of events.

While Stephanie’s recantation may not ultimately lead to the legal exoneration the women are fighting to win, it’s closer to vindication.

Supporters of the four women started a website, Four Lives Lost. There they make the tie between this case and the satanic panic,

The medical doctor who examined the two girls, a Texas board-certified pediatrician, made the bizarre diagnosis of “satanic-related sexual abuse” in the medical report, and at the trials presented outdated, but highly influential medical testimony.

The Express-News identifies the doctor as Nancy Kellogg, and notes: “Kellogg’s exam report also showed she spoke to police about “my concern that this could be Satanic-related.” Satanic rituals, cited as reasons for a wave of child sex-abuse cases in the mid-1980s to early 1990s, were widely discredited before she saw the girls.”

It should also be noted that the four women are lesbians, and the old notion that homosexuals prey on children entered the trial as well.

It’s too early to know what will happen in this case. Only one of the alleged victims has stepped forward, and the legal system – particularly the Texas legal system – has a history of dragging its feet when it comes to examining wrongful convictions. Perhaps the four women will be allowed the same akward plea deal as the West Memphis 3. But either way, they’ve lost years of their lives to what looks like the rumor-panic of the satanic ritual abuse craze.

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