Exonerees hold ‘Innocence Project of Texas Advocacy Day’

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Several exonerees from Texas gathered at the State Capitol for the first Innocence Project of Texas day to highlight legislation they say would help wrongfully convicted individuals.

Among the group was Elizabeth Ramirez, who was part of what’s known as the San Antonio Four. Ramirez, along with Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez were sentenced to prison in 1997 and 1998 after getting convicted of raping Ramirez’s nieces.

“I lost 17 years of my life and so did my friends,” Ramirez said. “I feel that in the system, we need a voice and that voice is us now — to be able to help other people and make it aware that it does happen.”

All four women were declared innocent in 2016 by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — one of the nieces recanted and one of the doctors who originally testified retracted her testimony about how there were signs of sexual abuse.

The Innocence Project of Texas says it supports four House bills: including a bill that would allow for an exoneree to be awarded state compensation after finding that they were actually innocent and to also change their designated death beneficiaries.

Another bill would help provide legal assistance to an incarcerated individual who may have any potentially meritorious claim for wrongful conviction, such as prosecutorial misconduct or false evidence. The bill it supports in the Senate would allow defense attorneys in the grand jury room while the person accused is being questioned or offering testimony.

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