'San Antonio Four' exonerated in 1990s Texas sexual assault cases

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SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A Texas court on Wednesday exonerated four women convicted of sexual assault in the 1990s after lawyers argued that they were sent to prison because of junk science, tainted testimony and false ideas of lesbian behavior.

The Court of Criminal Appeals said the convictions of the so-called "San Antonio Four" for sexually assaulting two children, ages 7 and 9, did not pass "the smell test." With testimony recanted since the trial and new evidence, no reasonable juror could have found the women guilty, the court said.

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"Those defendants have won the right to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that they did not commit a crime," the written ruling said. "They are innocent. And they are exonerated."

Learn more about this notorious case:

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The San Antonio Four
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The San Antonio Four
Cassandra Rivera, center, followed by Elizabeth Ramirez and Kristie Mayhugh are greeted by family as they leave the Bexar County Jail, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in San Antonio, after it was announced earlier in the day the San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were expected to walk free Monday after a judge agreed that their convictions were tainted by faulty witness testimony. Vasquez, the fourth, has already been paroled, but under strict conditions. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Cassandra Rivera, center, followed by Elizabeth Ramirez and Kristie Mayhugh are led out of the Bexar County Jail by their attorney Mike Ware, right, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in San Antonio. It was announced earlier in the day the San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were expected to walk free Monday after a judge agreed that their convictions were tainted by faulty witness testimony. Vasquez, the fourth, has already been paroled, but under strict conditions. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Cassandra Rivera, right, is greeted by family members after she, Elizabeth Ramirez and Kristie Mayhugh were released from the Bexar County Jail, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in San Antonio, after it was announced earlier in the day the women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were allowed to walk free after a judge agreed that their convictions were tainted by faulty witness testimony. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Cassandra Rivera, center, followed by Elizabeth Ramirez and Kristie Mayhugh, are led out of the Bexar County Jail by their attorney Mike Ware, right, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in San Antonio. The San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were allowed to walk free after a judge agreed that their convictions were tainted by faulty witness testimony. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Kristie Mayhugh waves from a car after she, Cassandra Rivera and Elizabeth Ramirez were released from the Bexar County Jail, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in San Antonio. The San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were allowed to walk free after a judge agreed that their convictions were tainted by faulty witness testimony. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Cassandra Rivera is greeted by family members after she, Elizabeth Ramirez and Kristie Mayhugh were released from the Bexar County Jail, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in San Antonio, after it was announced earlier in the day the women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were allowed to walk free after a judge agreed that their convictions were tainted by faulty witness testimony. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Elizabeth Ramirez, center, is greeted by family after she, Cassandra Rivera and Kristie Mayhugh were released from the Bexar County Jail, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in San Antonio. The San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were allowed to walk free after a judge agreed that their convictions were tainted by faulty witness testimony. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Anna Vasquez, right, is hugged by family as she leaves a courtroom at the Bexar County Courthouse, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in San Antonio, after it was announced that three of four San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were expected to walk free after a judge agreed that their convictions were tainted by faulty witness testimony. Vasquez, the fourth woman, has already been paroled, but under strict conditions. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Anna Vasquez, center, walks past members of the media as she leaves a courtroom at the Bexar County Courthouse, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in San Antonio, after it was announced that three of four San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were expected to walk free after a judge agreed that their convictions were tainted by faulty witness testimony. Vasquez, the fourth woman, has already been paroled, but under strict conditions. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Anna Vasquez smiles as she leaves a courtroom at the Bexar County Courthouse, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in San Antonio, after it was announced that three of four San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were expected to walk free after a judge agreed that their convictions were tainted by faulty witness testimony. Vasquez, the fourth woman, has already been paroled, but under strict conditions. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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The women, Cassandra Rivera, Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh and Anna Vasquez were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 37 years and each served more than a decade. They were released on bond a few years ago as the convictions began to unravel.

They four maintained their innocence and their supporters have slammed testimony presented by the state's star medical witness at trial, pediatrician Nancy Kellogg.

Kellogg testified about what she said were physical injuries inflicted upon the girls as part of satanic rituals that she said were prevalent among some lesbians.

Kellogg later retracted her testimony and agreed with defense claims that there were no signs of physical abuse, the appeals court said.

Other witnesses in the original trials also recanted their testimony.

The convictions in Texas were part of a national trend in the 1980s and early 1990s triggered by sensational accusations of satanic rituals and the sexual abuse of hundreds of children at a California preschool in what was known as the McMartin case.

The case, then dubbed the most expensive criminal trial in U.S. history, ended with no convictions.

With the exonerations in Texas, the four women are in line for compensation under state law.

Lawyers for the women were not immediately available for comment.

Related: Also learn more about notable cold cases:

13 PHOTOS
Notable Cold Cases
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Notable Cold Cases
A photograph of Lizzie Borden appears in the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, in Fall River, Mass., Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008. The owner of the site of the 1892 double murder has filed a federal lawsuit to prevent a new museum and shop in Salem from using the name of the infamous former Sunday school teacher who was accused in the hatchet deaths of her wealthy father and stepmother. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Coroner Samuel R. Gerber of Cleveland, Ohio, who has investigated Cleveland's 12 "torso murders," examines a plastic dummy which he received in the mail, shown Feb. 16, 1939. "Somebody," he opined, "possibly the torso killer himself, is playing grim jokes on me." (AP Photo)
Bucks Row, now Durward Street, east London, where the body of Mary Ann Nichols, victim of Jack the Ripper, was found lying across the gutter. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Elizabeth Short has become one of the most investigated murder victims in history. The aspiring actress' brutal murder has commanded Hollywood's attention for decades: Tinseltown theories about her killer are as common as celluloid. (AP Photo)
These are three victims of a killer who calls himself "Zodiac" and brags to police by letter of his deeds, in San Francisco and the northern California areas. Left to right: San Francisco cab driver Paul Stine, shot to death last Saturday; Cecilia Shepard, 22, student stabbed to death three weeks ago; and Bryan Hartnell, 20, who was stabbed but lived. (AP Photo)
Bloomfield Police Chief Robert Snell fields questions from reporters Thursday, August 1, 1975 about the mysterious disapperances of former Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa. Hoffa's family reported him missing after the ex-union boss failed to come home Wednesday night. Police in this Detroit suburb say they have no clues as to Hoffa's whereabouts. -- (Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (AP Photo)
Dian Fossey plays with a group of young mountain gorillas in Rwanda's Virunga Mountains in central Africa. She is one of a group of Anthropologists who study animals such as the gorilla. (AP PHOTO) 10/05/1982
Defendant John Henry Carpenter talks with his attorney Gary Fleischman in a Los Angeles courtroom, Ca., June 1, 1992. Carpenter, 64, was arrested for the 1978 slaying of his friend and actor Bob Crane of the television show "Hogan's Heroes." Carpenter was acquitted of these charges by a jury in 1994. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)
 The site where 6 year old JonBenet Ramsey was killed in Boulder, Colorado, 1996. (Photo by Karl Gehring/Liaison)
** FILE **Rap star Tupac Shakur spits in the direction of reporters as he leaves state Supreme Court in New York, in this July 5, 1994, file photo. Shakur died on Sept. 13, 1996, the victim of a drive-by shooting. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews/FILE)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 18: Rapper Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls, aka Chris Wallace rolls a cigar outside his mother's house in Brooklyn. (Photo by Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Donna Norris poses next to a photo of her daughter Amber Hagerman, January 4, 2011, who was kidnapped 15 years ago while riding a bicycle near Norris mother's home in Arlington, Texas on January 13, 1996. (Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
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