SAN ANTONIO -- A cool, stiff breeze pushed stalks of weeds with a graceful rhythm as a shallow stripe of water lazily wended its way through a culvert. As tranquil as the imagery conveyed, peace deserted this San Antonio neighborhood long ago.
“We used to play in this creek…We used to jump in it,” recounted Anna Vasquez who looked enviously at the view from her backyard, recalling the memories of the childhood innocence she lost after a court convicted her of a monstrous crime on February 14, 1998.
“I see a big beautiful world. And freedom. I see freedom," she said. "But at the same time I'm not there (and able to move about freely).”
For the last 12 and a half years, Vasquez spent her life confined to a prison cell as a member of the so-called San Antonio Four- a dubious appellation for a group of four female friends convicted during two separate trials of savagely molesting two nieces of one of the women in a west-side apartment over the course of a week in the summer of 1994. The girls were 7 and 9 years old at the time.
"There was absolutely nothing we did wrong,” stressed Vasquez during a sit-down interview with KENS 5, “This is a fabricated story.”
Vasquez, on November 2, became the first of the San Antonio Four to be released from prison. But in many senses, she says she feels no liberty. Vasquez had to register with the state as a sex offender. She cannot use a computer. She cannot be near schools or playgrounds. And under the terms of her parole, she cannot leave the house unless she gets permission.
On the day she sat down for this interview, she expressed reservations about merely getting some fresh air.
“I don't know if I can walk up and down the street,” stated Vasquez. “Since I've been home I have not touched the street."
Vasquez’s life unraveled because of a set of circumstances unquestioned by authorities at the time, but now viewed as highly questionable. She was convicted along with Kristie Mayhugh, Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera - all of whom refused to plead guilty to a lesser sentence.
Mike Ware, an attorney with the Innocence Project of Texas picked up the case of the San Antonio Four roughly 18 months ago. He’s seeking to get the four exonerated.
"The strongest thing we have going for us is the truth is, they're absolutely innocent,” stressed Ware.
Ware characterizes the case as a witch-hunt based on flawed forensics, bogus witness testimony and a vendetta to lock-up the women because they are lesbians.
In August, documentarian Deborah Esquenazi reported that one of the girls who had accused the San Antonio Four, recanted her story for an untitled film project now in production.
"As attorney Mike Ware once said to me, 'If these were four women at a Junior League tea, these allegations would have looked so absurd. I believe that homophobia played a role in their conviction," said Deborah S. Esquenazi, director of "Untitled San Antonio Four Documentary."
"Anna, Kristie, Cassie, and Liz have done something extraordinary: They've refused plea bargains, deferred adjudication, refused partaking in sex offender treatment programs - which only makes their lives more difficult in prison.
"These women have maintained their innocence for the 12-plus years they've been in prison. They are unshakable in their faith. They've never taken deals or snitched or lied to curry favor with prosecutors. I believe in them because they were convicted using junk science,” said Esquenazi.
Vasquez insisted she does not hold any grudges in the wake of her years spent in prison, but refused to go into specifics about her feelings for the young girls whose testimony helped send The Four to prison.
“It’s not healthy to keep all that anger and bitterness,” said Vasquez.
Faith in God pushes her to be positive and to fight for the exoneration of her three friends who remain in prison.
Vasquez has moved back to her childhood home, but as far as she’s concerned, she’s still a prisoner until a court clears her name.
“I'm an innocent woman, fighting for her innocence to be proven, to finally show the truth," she said.
Prosecutors in Bexar County acknowledge that they have launched an independent investigation into the conviction of the San Antonio Four.
“We’re taking the allegations very seriously," said Rico Valdez, chief of the Appellate Division of the Bexar County Office of the District Attorney. “We’re still early in the process.”
They have yet to receive any filings from attorneys representing the San Antonio Four in their quest to seek exoneration.
Meantime, Vasquez hopes to find a job soon, so that she can re-integrate into society. For 11 of the years she spent in prison, she worked as a mechanic in the print shop, fixing copy machines.
“If they just give me a chance,” she stated as she referred to the struggle she envisions in finding employment. “I will prove something to them.”