Freedom after 20 years in prison for a horrific crime that never happened

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.

Fran Keller Released From Prison: After more than 20 years, Keller is home for the holidays – News Blog – The Austin Chronicle.

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 Austin Chronicle has been on this case for years and was instrumental in the current situation.

[…] 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

  12 comments for “Freedom after 20 years in prison for a horrific crime that never happened

  1. November 28, 2013 at 5:27 PM

    In the McMartin preschool case at least one childhood accuser later recanted the extreme stories of abuse.

    In 2005 one of the children (now an adult) retracted the allegations of abuse.[16][35]

    Never did anyone do anything to me, and I never saw them doing anything. I said a lot of things that didn’t happen. I lied. … Anytime I would give them an answer that they didn’t like, they would ask again and encourage me to give them the answer they were looking for. … I felt uncomfortable and a little ashamed that I was being dishonest. But at the same time, being the type of person I was, whatever my parents wanted me to do, I would do.[16]

  2. Blargh
    November 28, 2013 at 5:53 PM

    That woman’s awful ordeal aside, what makes things really scary is that people still believe in this. According to this New Scientist story from a couple of months ago, 1/3 of UK shrinks still believe in Satanic ritual abuse. In the year 2013. That is absolutely horrifying.

  3. One Eyed Jack
    November 28, 2013 at 7:39 PM

    Ironic that during the same time that “Satanists” were being falsely accused, the Catholic church was covering up the activities of actual pedophiles.

  4. Tom
    November 29, 2013 at 1:12 AM

    These panics happen from time to time; it’s the herd mentality in action. At the moment it seems to be paedophiles that are the target witness recently one man in England wrongly suspected, was MURDERED (his murderers were convicted this week) there are also reports of those working in paediatrics having being harassed. Some elements of the media actually thrive on fostering these panics.

  5. Nos482
    November 29, 2013 at 1:14 AM

    She really should push for another trial and after the inevitable acquittal sue everyone involved. Sue those #$&ß@ out of everything… let ’em live on the street for what she went through.

  6. Peter Robinson
    November 29, 2013 at 3:22 AM

    Private Eye (a stairical and investigative journalism publication in the U.K., for those of you not familiar with it), has regularly commented on the ‘satanic abuse’ industry. Here is a piece from 2009 that highlights some of the key proponents of this fantasy:

    The piece above highlights one of the major problems i.e. leading questioning of young children. It really is about time that the supporters of this nonsense disappear up their own rear ends. So many lives torn apart.

    Let’s hope those so called experts who contributed to this nonsense and who helped secure convictions of the innocent are sued to within an inch of their lives.

  7. November 29, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    To Nos482 and Peter: I have a feeling the Kellers are pretty beaten down over this and just want to live out their lives in peace. I also think there are too many people to blame in this travesty of justice to feel good about suing a small group of them. Society and the system failed. What good will a lawsuit do now?

  8. November 29, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    The witch hunts didn’t end in 1693.

  9. spookyparadigm
    November 29, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    While you probably right on the first part, I disagree on the second. Society and the system didn’t fail. These people did. While these cases were part of a larger pattern, it was a pattern of hundreds in a society of hundreds of millions. This wasn’t society, it was a subset of society that was guided by a particular religious worldview (or open to it because of a broader kinship with that religious identity). Neverminding justice, holding the guilty accountable in these cases will help serve as a cautionary tale. Nevermind their money or their freedom, though I believe both should be on the line, there should be monuments built to those who ramrodded these cases through, so that their names become synonymous with such monstrosity like Cotton Mather or Joseph McCarthy.

    They kidnapped people for twenty years based on lies in service of a pervese and monstrously false ideology. And they did it in the name of society. Of course they should be held to account, and if I had my druthers so would the bigger entities who created the scare in the first place.

  10. November 29, 2013 at 9:46 PM

    Part of the problem, I suspect, is that retractions are not well-publicised.

    Joseph de Rivera wrote this in 1997 about the CSA panic: “Current records show that more than 300 persons have come to believe that they made false accusations.” (“The Construction of False Memory Syndrome: The Experience of Retractors, ” Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 4 (1997), pp. 271-292)

    What would those numbers be now? Roseanne Barr retracted her accusation a couple years ago. Sometimes these things take decades.

    But what I really wonder is how many alien abduction claimants have retracted their stories. The other panics involved the justice system, police, journalists, scientists and advocacy groups, and eventually the truth came out. But there is no such institutional scrutiny of alien abductions. A few ufologists have spoken out but most don’t want to rock the saucer, or don’t want to publicly denounce their good friends.

    November 29, 2013 at 10:54 PM

    What good would a lawsuit do now? Money to make the rest of their lives a little easier. Imagine having to start over late in life with no job skills. Sue or practice saying “Do you want fries with that.”

  12. November 30, 2013 at 8:29 AM

    It costs a lot of money to post a personal lawsuit like that. Someone would have to do it pro bono for them. I don’t guess that would happen.

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