For the second time in one week, we have news that innocent people who were victims of the notorious Satanic Panic are freed from jail.
Nearly 21 years to the day that she was sent to prison for a crime that few still believe ever actually happened, Frances Keller on Tuesday evening walked out of the Travis County Jail, freed on a personal bond, and was greeted by a grown daughter eager to hug her mother after more than two decades of separation.
Keller and her husband Dan were each convicted and sentenced on Nov. 30, 1992, to 48 years in prison for the alleged sexual abuse of 3-year-old Christy Chaviers, who in the summer of 1991 was an infrequent drop-in at the couple’s home-based daycare near Oak Hill.
The Kellers were among hundreds of child-care workers across the nation who, in the Eighties and Nineties, were accused of being part of a network of satan worshippers who abused children taken to daycare. In 2008, the Chronicle began a reinvestigation of the case against Fran and Dan Keller, discovering that Austin Police and prosecutors were embarrassingly credulous in their belief that the children had been abused in all manner of impractical – if not simply impossible – ways and despite the fact that there was scant evidence to suggest any crime ever happened at all.
This story is a travesty of justice. Christy, on the stand, in 2009, even admitted this never really happened even though she said it did. The only other evidence that was provided was by Michael Mouw who was a novice ER doctor at the time. He said the there were some deformities on Christy’s genitals that could be from sexual abuse. When asked years later, he more or less withdrew that statement saying they could easily be normal deformities. Another confession at the time was recanted. In essence, the case was weak yet the Kellers went to jail. The faulty Mouw medical testimony for the state at the 1992 trial was part of the appeal filed on on behalf of Fran Keller by an Austin defense attorney Keith Hampton. A hearing resulted in the District Attorney agreeing that Keller received an unfair trial and vacated the conviction. Fran is thus released until it is determined that another trial should be held, which is HIGHLY unlikely. Dan will be released in December under the same provisions.
[...] the Chronicle‘s reinvestigation of the Fran’s Day Care case has revealed serious problems with the state’s case against the Kellers – including questions about the quality and reliability of the state’s medical evidence and forensic interviews. Moreover, the sensational nature of the charges themselves, in a period of hysterical national rumors about supposed “satanic ritual abuse” at day care centers, made it virtually impossible for the Kellers to receive a fair or even rational trial. Finally, our investigation has uncovered potentially exculpatory evidence that the Kellers’ defense attorneys say they were not aware of at the time of the 1992 trial.
This was a horrendous part of U.S. trial history – how we believed the stories of children even though they were outrageous, unsupported and irrational. The Kellers lived through a nightmare that should NOT have happened as did many others who were prosecuted under faulty testimony, garbage evidence, and a moral panic of paranoid communities. This is why we need skepticism. Always.
Tip: J. B. Sherrick