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Texas prosecutor OKs prisoner release in lesbian sexual assault case

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas prosecutor agreed on Friday to free three women imprisoned since 1998 on sexual assault convictions that critics say were based more on mistaken ideas of lesbian behavior than evidence presented in court.

Current Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed told Reuters she agreed with a defense argument to allow the three San Antonio area residents to be released on bond next week.

Next will come a procedural matter that moves the case to an appeals court, where she said the state will decline to prosecute them.

A fourth woman convicted at the same time was already released on parole.

"I do not intend to proceed on this case again," said Reed, who was not the prosecutor at the time of their conviction.

Kristie Mayhugh, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, and Anna Vasquez, known as the "San Antonio Four", were convicted of sexually assaulting Ramirez's seven- and nine-year-old nieces and sentenced to prison time ranging from 15 years to 37 years.

The four have denied their guilt while critics have slammed testimony presented by the state's 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.

Mike Ware, a Fort Worth attorney representing the women on behalf of the non-profit Innocence Project of Texas, said anti-gay bias was largely responsible for their conviction.

"I believe that had these four young women, none of whom had any criminal history at all, not just recently, come out as gay, probably this investigation never would have been taken seriously, due to the preposterous nature of the allegations," he said.

Debbie Nathan of the National Center for Reason and Justice, which tries to free falsely convicted inmates, said during the 1990s Texas get tough on crime campaign, it was easy for juries to be biased against lesbians.

In a sign of how things have evolved in some parts of the state, Texans have elected lesbians as mayor and Dallas County sheriff.

"When the pediatrician found out that there were four women involved in the sexual assault, she just jumped to the conclusion that it had to be Satanic," Nathan said.

"Satanic lesbians, that just sounds like some sort of horror movie," she said.

(Reporting by Jim Forsyth; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and L Gevirtz)

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