Alleged SRA: Texas Keller Case

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Alleged SRA: Texas Keller Case

Postby elfismiles » Sun Dec 08, 2013 11:43 am

Previous RI thread citing this case:

Alex Cockburn's Despicable CP Piece on 'Sex Crimes Mania'
Post by Gouda » 02 Nov 2009 11:29

... and quoted here:

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation
Post by American Dream » 31 Oct 2009 00:00

I've had my doubts about this particular case for some time ... and the recent release of the suspects due to a change in attitude concerning the testimony of "then-novice emergency room doctor, Michael Mouw" who "told jurors that he found deformities to Christy's genital area that could have been caused by sexual abuse" but has since...

"... said that not long after he testified against the Kellers, he realized that what he thought were injuries were in fact "normal variants" of female genitalia. He said he had been trained in medical school and in the ER to have a pro-police/prosecution bias, and that with the training and experience he's gained in the intervening years, he knows now not only that he was wrong about what he thought he saw, but also that he was not qualified in 1991 to conduct a pediatric sexual assault exam or to draw any conclusions about whether abuse had taken place."

... the misperception of variants in female genitalia by a "medical professional" immediately brought to mind Cathy O'Brien's story of genital mutilation at the hands of Michael Aquino:


Cathy O Brien The Most Dangerous Game (Graphic, discretion advised)

... as well as the change in verdict related to a case of alleged sexual abuse in San Antonio just brought to my attention by RI user Parel:

Re: 16 Tx Strip-Clubs Fund City's Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts

parel » 07 Dec 2013 15:55 wrote:Back in Texas - more stigmatising strangeness to do with sex - in this case, sexual orientation.

How Junk Science and Anti-Lesbian Prejudice Got Four Women Sent to Prison for More Than a Decade
But on Nov. 18, 2013, Ramirez, Mayhugh, and Rivera were released on bail after the testimony of an expert medical witness used to convict them was found to be faulty and a judge recommended that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals vacate their conviction.
The only thing that seemed to back up the girls’ account of this rank sexual abuse was the presence of what looked like a small, white scar on the hymen of the older sister, a scar that one medical expert testified—wrongly, as it turns out—was consistent with sexual abuse.

This is not an attempt to invalidate Cathy's claims which admittedly are probably a radically different situation than "misperception of variants in female genitalia."

But in the search for physical evidence of these sorts of horrific crimes these seem like important data points in the ongoing debate over SRA claims and individual cases of alleged child-sexual-abuse.


ImageDecember 6, 2013
Volume 33, Number 15

e-edition: ... x?id=40819
pdf: ... onicle.pdf

Freedom for the Kellers
Fran and Dan released after 21 years for 'satanic abuse'
BY JORDAN SMITH ... e-kellers/

'Sleeping on Air'
Fran Keller rejoices at the small blessings of freedom ... while wondering about her future
BY JORDAN SMITH ... ng-on-air/

'Ritual Abuse,' the San Antonio Four, and Public Hysteria
San Antonio case shows innocent are still behind bars
BY DEBBIE NATHAN ... -hysteria/
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Re: Alleged SRA: Texas Keller Case

Postby elfismiles » Sun Dec 08, 2013 11:53 am

Freedom for the Kellers
Fran and Dan released after 21 years for 'satanic abuse'
By Jordan Smith, Fri., Dec.6, 2013
ImageFran Keller
Photos by Jana Birchum

Late on Nov. 26, just two days before Thanksgiving and nearly 21 years to the day that she was sent to prison for a crime that few still believe ever actually happened, Frances Keller walked out of the Travis County Jail, freed on a personal bond. She was greeted by her grown daughter, Donna Bankston, eager to embrace 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 day care near Oak Hill. After a day at the Kellers' that summer, Christy told her mother, Suzanne Stratton, that Dan had spanked her. With additional pressing, first by her mother and then by therapist Donna David-Campbell, that initial allegation soon morphed dramatically – first into an allegation of sexual abuse and then, by the fall, into far more fantastic allegations – including that the Kellers took Christy and other children on plane rides to Mexico where they were abused by various people, that Fran cut off the finger of a gorilla at Zilker Park, that the Kellers performed a satanic bone-replacing ritual on one child, and that the Kellers forced the children to watch them sacrifice babies and small animals. Ultimately, Campbell concluded that Christy was a victim of "ritual abuse."

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 day care. In 2008, the Chronicle began a reinvestigation of the case against Fran and Dan Keller. We discovered that Austin Police and prosecutors were embarrassingly credulous in their belief that the children had been abused in all manner of unbelievable – often literally impossible – ways, despite the fact that there was scant evidence to suggest any crime had ever occurred at all.

In fact, the only physical evidence to suggest Christy might have been abused came in the form of testimony from a then-novice emergency room doctor, Michael Mouw, who examined Christy in August of 1991. At the couple's trial just more than a year later, Mouw told jurors that he found deformities to Christy's genital area that could have been caused by sexual abuse. When he was contacted by the Chronicle for what eventually became our cover story on the case ("Believing the Children," March 27, 2009), Mouw said that not long after he testified against the Kellers, he realized that what he thought were injuries were in fact "normal variants" of female genitalia. He said he had been trained in medical school and in the ER to have a pro-police/prosecution bias, and that with the training and experience he's gained in the intervening years, he knows now not only that he was wrong about what he thought he saw, but also that he was not qualified in 1991 to conduct a pediatric sexual assault exam or to draw any conclusions about whether abuse had taken place.ImageDan Keller

That Mouw provided inaccurate medical testimony for the state at the 1992 trial was among the claims included in an exhaustive appeal filed on Fran Keller's behalf in January by Austin defense attorney Keith Hampton. A hearing on the issue was held in district court in August, leading Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehm­berg earlier this month to agree with Hamp­ton that Keller had received an unfair trial. (An appeal raising the same claims was filed last week for Dan, and the agreed findings related to Mouw's testimony are also applicable to Dan.)

In short, the state has agreed that the medical testimony presented at the Kellers' trial was false, was material, and likely affected the outcome of the trial. As such, its inclusion violated their rights to due process. In a press release, Lehmberg said that she agreed to the relief because of the "crucial nature" of Mouw's testimony, and the "reasonable likelihood that his false testimony affected the judgment of the jury and violated Frances Keller's right to a fair trial."

The fact that Lehmberg and Hampton have agreed to that finding, and agreed that the Kel­lers conviction should be overturned, triggered a provision of state law that allowed a district judge to grant a personal bond to release them from prison while their appeal moves through the process. The agreed findings will be forwarded to the Court of Criminal Appeals for final approval; once that happens, the case will be returned to Lehmberg to decide whether to retry the case.
Continuing Ordeal

Fran Keller, now 63, was transported to Travis County from the Gatesville Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on the morning of Nov. 26, and that afternoon Judge Cliff Brown signed off on her release. Roughly six hours later, as reporters waited in the lobby area of the county's Downtown jail, Keller was released through a back door and picked up by her daughter. Dan, who turned 72 in prison on Friday, Nov. 29, is expected to be returned to Travis County and finally released early this month.

While the state has agreed that the Kel­lers' 1992 trial included the false and damaging medical testimony, Lehmberg has nonetheless decided to oppose the other arguments raised by Hampton on appeal – including that Austin Police failed to turn over exculpatory information from their investigation of the alleged abuse, that when interviewing Christy about the alleged abuse the state used techniques known to produce unreliable narratives, and that the Kellers are actually innocent. In short, it appears that the impact of Mouw's testimony – excluding the only piece of physical evidence against the couple – has, to date, had only limited impact on the state's perspective on the case. "Under the exacting standards for a bare claim of actual innocence ... Dr. Mouw's false testimony regarding physical evidence of abuse neither constitutes affirmative evidence nor unquestionably establishes [the Kellers'] innocence," reads the state's response to the remainder of the writ.

Notably, it's the second time in as many weeks that Hampton was instrumental in the release from prison of a woman accused in the Nineties of ritual abuse. Hampton is among the lawyers representing members of the so-called "San Antonio Four," who were accused of ritually abusing two nieces of one of the women, Liz Ramirez, whom Hampton represents. In that case, one of the alleged victims recanted her story and, as with the Kellers, the case featured false, and material, medical testimony. Three of the women were released from prison last week, the fourth was paroled last year. See "'Ritual Abuse,' the San Antonio Four, and Public Hysteria."

Whatever comes next, Fran's family is happy that, for the first time in more than two decades, they have been together for Thanksgiving. "Everyone is going to be in the same house – together," Bankston said. "Thank God." ... e-kellers/
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Re: Alleged SRA: Texas Keller Case

Postby elfismiles » Sun Dec 08, 2013 11:55 am

Point Austin: A Taste of Freedom
Thanks to those who fought for justice – the fight continues
By Michael King, Fri., Dec. 6, 2013

Making a living is nothing; the great difficulty is making a point, making a difference – with words. – Elizabeth Hardwick, "Grub Street: New York," 1963

While I can't accede entirely to Hardwick's opening sniff at the daily grind, few of us in fact drift into journalism for the money. Considering the current state of the industry, anyone who does so is not only mercenary, but just plain daft. In large part, we do what we do because we want to "make a difference." Nevertheless, after years of toil in this particular Austin hedgerow, I don't routinely expect tangible evidence of having some public, positive effect.

But this is indeed one of those times. The work of the Chronicle, and most especially of staff writer Jordan Smith, has been directly instrumental in correcting a terrible and ongoing injustice. Thanks to her reporting, wrongfully imprisoned Fran Keller is now free, and Dan Keller should be free before long (see "Freedom for the Kell­ers," p.30). That's not the end of their legal ordeal, and it cannot begin to compensate for more than two decades of incarceration – but we can celebrate this week that their 1992 convictions on "satanic ritual abuse" charges will almost certainly be overturned, and that the work of Jordan and her colleagues here at the paper has had an important hand in making that happen.

Had Jordan not dug into the dormant case some years ago ("Believ­ing the Child­ren," Mar. 27, 2009), it's almost certain the legal proceedings which led to this successful outcome would never have begun. She reviewed the credulous police and prosecutorial files that recounted the fantastical and often literally impossible "testimony" used as evidence in the case – much of it evoked from easily led children by hysterical or professionally incompetent adults – and she consulted experts on the "satanic ritual" hysteria of the period as well as the forensic misuse of child interviews. Most importantly, she contacted the former emergency room doctor, Michael Mouw, who had provided the only trial testimony citing actual physical evidence – and he was honest and courageous enough to retract his original judgment, and even to acknowledge he was not qualified at the time to offer such a diagnosis.

That was the specific detail of reporting, within her larger investigative story, that led to the Kellers' release. We're very proud to be associated in even a small way with Jordan's work in ending a bitter injustice.
Congratulations All Around

Beyond that, there are plenty of others who had a hand in this important victory. In April 1994, Gary Cartwright wrote an important story ("The Innocent and the Damned") for Texas Monthly, which still provides a road map to the Kellers' preposterous investigation and prosecution. Debbie Nathan – with Michael Snedeker, the author of Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt (1995) – chronicled the nationwide hysteria that produced the widespread "satanic ritual" prosecutions, among them the Keller case. Her continuing work with the National Center for Reason and Justice has helped many others accused in similar circumstances (see "'Ritual Abuse,' the San Anton­io Four, and Public Hysteria," p.32).

This important spadework meant that when discussion of the Keller case resurfaced in 2008, during the initial election campaign of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, there was already skepticism in the air, and Jordan could build on the work that had preceded her. Once her story had been published, the Innocence Project of Texas and eventually Austin attorney Keith Hampton became involved. It was Hampton's appellate brief – which sets forth in great detail all the investigative abuses and follies that led to the Kellers' conviction – that finally led to their liberation from prison. All of these people deserve congratulations for their roles in restoring justice.
A Call for Exoneration

The story remains far from an ending. The case will now proceed to the Court of Criminal Appeals – hardly a redoubt of progressive legal thought – and even should the CCA approve the agreement by prosecutors that Mouw's testimony irrevocably tainted the trial, there remains at least the possibility of a retrial, as the D.A.'s office declined to concur that the entire prosecution was rife with investigative misconduct, factual errors, withheld evidence, and reliance on unbelievable testimony. Any attempt to retry the Kellers would be a laughable outrage; but beyond that, the prosecutors need to sit down, reconsider the public hysteria that led to this travesty, and finally acknowledge not only that the Kellers are innocent, but that in fact no such crimes ever happened.

Whatever happens now, we cannot hope to restore to the Kellers the decades of their lives that they have lost, or to fully right the injustices done to them. They deserve exoneration and compensation, certainly, and beyond that some time to decide what's best for them going forward. That will be their choice. Perhaps, like the exonerated Michael Morton, they'll be willing to share their story publicly, in hopes to diminish the likelihood that such hysterical prosecutions will happen again.

Make no mistake, others have happened since, in Texas and elsewhere. While real child abuse, mostly family-based, still often goes unreported or unnoticed, the widespread public credulity for fantastical scenarios – fed and reinforced by complacent, sensationalist media – too often leads to the hysteria that unjustly pursued and imprisoned the Kellers.

The Keller case – a terrible scar on Austin's "progressive" history – insistently calls to mind the remark often attributed to Voltaire: Those who can be persuaded to believe absurdities, can be made to commit atrocities. ... f-freedom/
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Re: Alleged SRA: Texas Keller Case

Postby elfismiles » Sun Dec 08, 2013 11:57 am

'Sleeping on Air'
Fran Keller rejoices at the small blessings of freedom ... while wondering about her future

By Jordan Smith, Fri., Dec. 6, 2013

Fran Keller with her daughter Donna
Photos by Jana Birchum

Following her release from prison last week, the first item that Frances Keller bought was a toothbrush. For more than two decades, she'd been allowed to use only a stubby, prison-issued brush that required her to stick nearly her whole hand into her mouth in an attempt to clean her teeth. (Prisoners are not allowed real toothbrushes, because they could be used to fashion a weapon.) Released from prison, nearly 21 years to the day after she was convicted, Keller bought her first real, long-handled toothbrush – actually, she bought a two-pack, she said on Monday morning, in the living room of her daughter's house. Now, she said, she can walk around the house while brushing her teeth. She is free. And still she can barely believe it. "I'm still living in a dream," she said. "It's like, you have these dreams – and some of them come true."

For more than two decades, Keller hoped she would some day be free – that someone would finally realize that she was innocent of the terrible crime she'd been charged with back in 1991. Despite their repeated protestations of innocence – and the fact that scant evidence suggested a crime had even happened, let alone linked them to it – both Kellers were tried, convicted, and sentenced to 48 years in prison.

From prison, Fran Keller wrote letters, day after day, to countless attorneys, pleading that they reinvestigate her case; she was innocent, she told them. None replied. That was, until Austin defense attorney Keith Hampton not only took interest in her case, but filed a comprehensive appeal that ultimately – after a hearing this summer and an agreement with Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehm­berg that the Kellers had received an unfair trial back in 1992 – led to Fran's Nov. 26 release.

Fran and her son Steve

That morning, Keller was told by guards at the Gatesville prison to start packing; Just after noon she was returned to the Travis County jail where she was processed – with fingerprints and mug shots – before finally being released that night. Reporters waited at the front entrance to the jail while Keller, dressed in clothes the correctional officers supplied (a new pair of jeans, a man's button-down shirt, a ball cap, and a coat), was secreted by a deputy out a back door and walked into a nearby parking garage where she waited for her daughter, Donna Bank­ston, to pick her up and drive her home.

Sitting in Bankston's living room on Mon­day morning with her daughter and son, Steve Newland, Keller was by turns both exultant and anxious. She was now sleeping on a real bed – "It's like going from sleeping on concrete to sleeping on air!" she said – eating real fruit (she was eager to tear into a party tray of fresh, sliced fruits she'd purchased at the grocery store), and using not only a real toothbrush but also real soap ("liquid soap," she noted). Keller's granddaughter, who was just a toddler when Keller went to prison and who is now a hairdresser, had given her a color and cut, and Keller had given herself a real manicure, carefully trimming and then painting her nails a soft shade of pink.

And for the first time in decades, Fran was able to spend Thanksgiving with her family. Last week, being booked back into jail prior to her release – an experience that she says brought back the trauma of her first booking there, more than 22 years ago, shortly after she and Dan were first accused of assault – Keller said she wasn't sure that she would actually be released, let alone in time for the holiday celebration. "I've been away from my family for so long, you just want your family around you," she said. "I've got a great family; I'm just blessed."

Keller worries still about the future. There remains more to the story of Fran and Dan Keller, yet to be written. The agreement between Lehmberg and Hamp­ton that prompted her release must first be filed and transmitted to the Court of Criminal Appeals for approval; if and when the CCA signs off, the case will be kicked back to Lehmberg for a chance to retry the couple. If Lehmberg declines to do so, then Hampton still must fight to have the couple formally exonerated. "It scares you to death that you might have to go back," Keller said, worry and fear clouding her face. "They put me in for something I didn't do then, and they could put me back in now. It's scary."

But Keller is also determined to continue to fight to prove that she never committed a crime. And she's eager to see Dan walk out of prison and into the arms of his family, as she has been able to do. Although they are no longer legally married, Fran hopes that hers is among the first faces he sees on the day that happens. She says she'll have with her a present just for him: the second of the two new toothbrushes she purchased last week. ... ng-on-air/
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Re: Alleged SRA: Texas Keller Case

Postby elfismiles » Sun Dec 08, 2013 12:01 pm

'Ritual Abuse,' the San Antonio Four, and Public Hysteria
San Antonio case shows innocent are still behind bars

By Debbie Nathan, Fri., Dec. 6, 2013

(l-r): Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera, Elizabeth Ramirez, and Anna Vasquez celebrate in Anna's mother's front yard on San Antonio's West Side, a half hour after the nighttime release of three of the women in November.
Photo by Debbie Nathan

Fran and Dan Keller are some of the last innocent people to leave prison after being caught in the satanic child abuse hysteria of the Eighties and Nineties. At least we think they're some of the last – no one really knows who's still behind bars. My group thought we knew. Then, five years ago, we received a shocking email.

I'm on the board of the National Center for Reason and Justice. Founded 12 years ago, the NCRJ helps free people falsely convicted of hurting children. We use their stories to expose the terrible things that can happen to innocent people – both children and adults – when society addresses the real problem of child abuse, but exaggerates its extent, and panics.

The Kellers were two of the first innocents we listed. Their case, with accusations of baby slaughter, cemetery rituals, and secret flights to Mexico, fit a pattern of panic that had started in 1983 in California, with the infamous McMartin Preschool case. In the next nine years, over 100 adults nationwide would be falsely convicted of ritual sex abuse. After Dan and Fran were shipped to prison, in 1992, the panic died completely. Or so we thought.

In 2008, NCRJ got that shocking email from a man in Canada, Darrell Otto. On the Internet, he'd discovered a group of four gay women in prison in Texas. They were friends from San Antonio and had been charged with ritually raping two little girls, ages 7 and 9, who were nieces of one of the women. The four defendants had been convicted in 1997 and 1998, and were serving sentences of between 15 and 37 1/2 years.

Otto believed they were innocent. He had evidence that the father of the child accusers had been angry with one of the women (in part because she was gay) and pressured his young daughters to bring false accusations. The case closely resembled that of the Kellers, with bizarre, improbable accusations and intimations of Satanism. It also included medical evidence purporting damage to the little girls' hymens – evidence that research had discredited by the time the NCRJ heard of the San Antonio case.

The NCRJ helped contact the media and educated them about the larger context of the case. Sometimes it felt as though we were running phone seminars for the press: "Satanic Panic 101," "Junk Science Pediatric Medical Evidence: An Introduction." We also contacted the Innocence Project of Texas, which accepted the case for review.

In late 2010, the first big investigative article about the women came out in the San Antonio Express-News. Days later, the NCRJ received a call from one of the accusers, who by then was in her 20s. Tearfully, she said that when she was 7, her father had forced her to lie about being raped by the women. She didn't remember that happening. But he'd threatened that if she didn't say it had, he would beat her and she'd be jailed. Fort Worth attorney Mike Ware, an Innocence Project of Texas board member, took the case, which the media and activists by then were calling the "San Antonio Four." Ware recruited Austin lawyer Keith Hampton (who was also representing the Kellers).

In both cases, the attorneys have lately prevailed with one of those "101" seminar issues: the medical evidence. Claims of evidence of damage to children's genitals, common in ritual abuse trials in the Eighties and Nineties, are now known to be often inaccurate, and a Texas law passed earlier this year allows the reopening of cases flawed by "junk science." The Kellers and the San Antonio Four are the first defendants to be affected by the new law.

Last month, three of the four – Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, and Kristie Mayhugh – were released from prison pending later review by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Co-defendant Anna Vasquez was already out on restrictive parole, but has now had those restrictions rescinded. The process is being repeated for the Kellers.

No registry exists of old ritual abuse cases. People still in prison may be discovered by chance, as the San Antonio women were. Or they may never be found. That's a chilling possibility. Equally chilling is the temptation to believe the panic is over. It's not. While satanic abuse cases are rare or even passé, the NCRJ hears persistently of less dramatic but common scenarios. Incest, arson, shaken babies – sloppy, unscientific investigations into such accusations can and do railroad many innocent people.

Minors also suffer from child-endangerment panic. A town in Georgia bans kids from trick-or-treating without an adult, in a deluded and – according to research – useless attempt to protect them from pedophiles. Teenagers in some states get prosecuted for "sexting" racy photos of themselves to their teen sweethearts. Sex offender registries make life unlivable for people who've served their time, though research consistently shows that registries fail to protect kids. Meanwhile, needlessly frightened parents forbid their children from playing outside or walking to school.

The NCRJ hopes the San Antonio Four and the Kellers eventually win exoneration. But even if these cases end happily, we'll still have much work to do.

To learn more about the National Center for Reason and Justice, and opportunities to support its work, visit ... -hysteria/
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Re: Alleged SRA: Texas Keller Case

Postby elfismiles » Sun Dec 08, 2013 12:10 pm


ImageMarch 27, 2009
Volume 28, Number 30
pdf: ... onicle.pdf

Believing the Children
In 1992, Fran and Danny Keller were convicted of multiple counts of child sexual abuse at their Oak Hill day care center and sent to prison for 48 years. It's likely they were innocent. Indeed, it's very likely that no crime ever occurred – except an absurd and overzealous prosecution
BY JORDAN SMITH ... -children/

The Satanic Abuse Scare
By the early Nineties, satanic abuse allegations at day care centers had become a national trend

Children and Testimony
Inexperienced interviewers can lead children to make up stories

The Power of Suggestion
Video interviews of Frances Keller and psychology professor James Wood

Point Austin: Legitimate Public Concern
The Keller prosecution is an enduring stain on Austin's honor and sense of justice

Police Report
The 1992 Austin Police Department investigative report on the Keller case
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Re: Alleged SRA: Texas Keller Case

Postby elfismiles » Sun Dec 08, 2013 12:16 pm

Believing the Children
It's likely Fran and Danny Keller were innocent of charges of child sexual abuse, but they're still in prison after 17 years
By Jordan Smith, Fri., March 27, 2009
ImagePhoto by Jana Birchum
    Believing the Children
    In 1992, Fran and Danny Keller were convicted of multiple counts of child sexual abuse at their Oak Hill day care center and sent to prison for 48 years. It's likely they were innocent. Indeed, it's very likely that no crime ever occurred – except an absurd and overzealous prosecution


    The Satanic Abuse Scare
    By the early Nineties, satanic abuse allegations at day care centers had become a national trend


    Children and Testimony
    Inexperienced interviewers can lead children to make up stories


    The Power of Suggestion
    Video interviews of Frances Keller and psychology professor James Wood


When the little girl on the witness stand said, "No, it didn't happen," Frances Keller put her head in her hands and began to sob.

It was the second day of what would be a six-day trial of Keller and her husband, Danny, on charges that they'd sexually assaulted a young girl, Christina Chaviers, in the summer of 1991, when the 3-year-old was an infrequent drop-in at their home-based Oak Hill day care. Among the multiple counts were allegations that Danny had forcibly penetrated Christina with a pen and his penis and that Fran had performed oral sex on Christina and forced the girl to do the same. The charges were based on statements Christina had made, first to her mother, Suzanne Guinne, and then to her therapist, social worker Donna David-Campbell. There was no definitive physical evidence.

On the witness stand, the little girl sat on her older sister's lap, chewing on a lollipop. "Did Danny ever touch you in a way you didn't like?" Assistant District Attorney Judy Shipway asked.

"No," Christina replied.

"Did Fran ever touch you [in] a way you didn't like?" Shipway asked.

"No," the girl replied.

Shipway tried a different approach. Did Christina tell anyone else that Danny had hurt her? She did not reply. Shipway asked if Christina would like to "whisper to me" her answer.

"No," she said.

"Christy, when you say no, do you mean you don't want to talk about it, or do you mean, no, it didn't happen?" Shipway asked.

"No, it didn't happen," Christina replied once and then again. "No, it didn't happen."

"But did you tell somebody it happened?" Shipway asked.

"Yes, yes, yes," she answered.

Fran held her head in her hands; all the emotion of the last year and a half welled up. Finally, she thought, everyone in the courtroom had heard the truth: Nothing had happened. Fran felt a measure of relief – certainly, this whole ordeal would soon be over.

ImageDaniel Keller
Photo by Jana Birchum

But that's not what happened. Instead, Fran and Danny Keller were each convicted of sexually assaulting Christina Chaviers, and each was sentenced to 48 years in prison. For the Kellers, now 58 and 68, respectively, it was effectively a life sentence. They've since come up for parole, but neither will acknowledge the remorse that is a requirement of release – after 17 years, the Kellers still fiercely maintain their innocence.

And in fact, 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.

In light of the problems with the original prosecution and this additional evidence, there remain substantive doubts about the Kellers' guilt. Indeed, it's an open question not only whether the Kellers were rightly convicted – but more fundamentally, whether any crime ever happened at Fran's Day Care at all.

Taking Care of Kids

Frances was devastated by the charges, which she and Danny vociferously denied. She loved children. She had three of her own, already grown, and she missed having little ones around the house. In late 1989, Frances decided to quit her job in the deli at the Oak Hill H-E-B and to open a day care in her home just off Highway 71. "My boss was having a baby, and I told her I was just getting tired of working, and she asked, if I was going to quit, would I watch her baby? Well, I've watched children ... all my life," Frances, or Fran, as the kids called her, told the Chronicle in an interview at the Sycamore Unit of the women's prison in Gatesville.

"Even when my kids were little I watched children. And ... it just started with her [baby] and then with a couple more. I was in heaven, you know, staying home and taking care of kids. I just loved it." She insists consistently to this day that she would never even think of hurting a child – and that neither she nor her husband ever abused Christina Chaviers.

Yet following a half-day at the Kellers on Aug. 15, 1991, Christina told her mother that she didn't like Danny, because he'd spanked her – just "like daddy" used to, Guinne said in court. (At the time, Guinne and her husband, Rick Chaviers, were engaged in a bitter divorce.) Mother and daughter were en route to a scheduled appointment with therapist Donna David-Campbell, who had been seeing Christina for several months to work on the toddler's ongoing behavior problems. By the time Christina's half-hour appointment was finished, however, the allegation that Danny had spanked her had grown in severity and scope. According to a Travis County Sheriff's Office report, Guinne and David-Campbell told investigators that during the therapy session, Christina told them that Danny had penetrated her vagina with an ink pen on numerous occasions and that he "'pee[s] and poops' on her and it comes out of his bottom."

In the following weeks, Christina's allegations against the Kellers became more disturbing and confounding. By the end of the year, Christina had said not only that Fran and Danny had molested her but that two other people – a dark-haired woman and a man that looked like country singer Kenny Rogers – had also come to the day care to partake in the abuse. She said that she'd been poked with needles by the Kellers and that Danny had dug a hole in the back yard and put her in it. She related tales of the Kellers torturing and killing animals and said that the Kellers had murdered, decapitated, and disemboweled a baby. According to case records, all these horrific actions had occurred during the 13 times Christina had attended the day care, without any parent or other adult noticing anything amiss.

By the end of 1991, two other children began to tell similar stories. Vijay Staelin, who was also seeing therapist David-Campbell, told his mom that Danny had made him eat poop and drink pee. And Brendan Nash – his mother told the television show American Justice – said the Kellers had held a gun to his head and forced him to assault his infant sister while they videotaped the abuse.

There was little physical evidence to support the children's stories. Christina was examined at Brackenridge Hospital the evening she made her first outcry, and the emergency room doctor said that he saw signs that her outer genitalia were red and that there was some deformity to her hymen. He concluded that the injuries could be consistent with sexual abuse but could not rule out the possibility that there was another cause – a tentative conclusion that would turn out to be the only physical evidence ever provided in the case. Christina and Brendan were subjected to forensic interviews by the Sheriff's Office, but none was certainly confirming nor corroborated by any physical evidence.

Most damning at trial was a statement given to police nearly a year after Christina's first outcry by an acquaintance of the Kellers, Doug Perry, who told investigators that he and his wife, former Travis Co. Precinct 3 Deputy Constable Janise White and her Precinct 3 partner, Raul Quintero, had taken part in abusing the children while at the Kellers' house one Friday afternoon. Perry recanted that confession shortly thereafter, however, claiming he'd been coerced into making it by Texas Rangers. No videotape or photographic evidence of abuse was ever found, and police never found any corpses – animal or human – to back up any of the children's wilder tales.

Nonetheless, a grand jury indicted the Kellers in late 1991 for sexually assaulting Christina – and, subsequently, indicted Perry, White, and Quintero on similar charges. Fran and Danny Keller were shocked. "It was like a nightmare," said Fran. "I think with an accusation like this, the presumption that you're guilty is strong."

Traumatic Origin

Fran and Danny Keller had been married about a year when they moved into a ranch-style brick home on Thomas Springs Road, northwest of the Y in Oak Hill. They'd been living in an apartment, but Fran, a country girl at heart, was eager to find something out of town. "I like gardens, and I like animals," she said recently. "I just wanted someplace in the country." The couple found the three-bedroom home owned by Julia Dietz, who has remained friends with the Kellers. "They were nice people," she says.

The couple leased the home on July 1, 1988, and immediately began work on the property. Danny, a manager of the county's Precinct 3 road crew, put in a stone walkway to the front door and began clearing cedar in the back yard, where the couple pastured their horse, Fancy Dancer; Fran planted a garden. The couple had been in the home just more than a year when Fran decided she was tired of working at the H-E-B. When her former boss gave birth to a son, Fran began to care for him while his mother was at work. It wasn't long before Fran was taking in other kids, referred to her by friends and neighbors. Eventually, she put a sign up in the front yard advertising her services. "It was wonderful. I taught the kids how to garden," she says, "and we had a big back yard, and we bought a pool for the kids. And we had sand all over the yard. ... We built one of those big wooden gyms. ... We had a horse, and [the kids] would take rides on the horse."

By 1991, Danny had retired; he tended the property and helped with the kids, taking them out for rides on the horse or pulling them in a large wagon behind his riding lawn mower. Teresa Chambers, a former paramedic, says the environment the Kellers had created was the main reason she put her two children in day care with Fran. "I took a tour of the house; it was clean. There was one particular room that was the kids' room. There was fishing net on the wall holding up stuffed animals," Chambers recalled. She was also impressed by the animals (in addition to the horse, the Kellers had six doves, a pair of parakeets, a dog, and a cat) and the garden. "I thought ... this is so cool for kids!" By the summer of 1991, the Kellers were regularly taking in between eight and 10 kids each day – including Christina Chaviers and Vijay Staelin, both 3, and Brendan Nash, then 5.

ImageFrances Keller
Photo by Jana Birchum

By all accounts, before she ever spent a moment at the Kellers, Christina was a troubled child. In the summer of 1991, her parents, Rick and Suzanne, were embroiled in a bitter divorce, marked in part, recalls Rick, by accusations that he had been abusive toward his wife and toddler daughter. "We were both evaluated, and [Suzanne] came out as passive-aggressive, and I was a dumbshit with an average IQ," he says. But Suzanne "got to court first and said I was abusive and all that stuff." (Suzanne Guinne, now Stratton, did not respond to phone calls or e-mail requesting an interview for this story; Christina Chaviers did not respond to similar requests.) Guinne, an interior designer, told the court that the reason she sought day care for Christina was so she'd have a place to take her daughter while she ran errands related to the divorce – to court, to see her lawyer, to attend counseling. Christina attended Fran's Day Care no more than 13 times; prior to that year, she had rarely been away from her mother's side. At the same time she began dropping Christina off for day care at the Kellers, in May 1991, Guinne began taking her daughter to see David-Campbell.

According to the therapist's testimony at the Kellers' trial, Christina's behaviors were among the worst she'd ever seen. Christina had been "acting out" for months, she said, long before the child began going to Fran's Day Care. She was violent toward her mother and often bit her; she once tried to jump out of a moving car; she was behaving like a dog, eating and drinking from a bowl and defecating in the back yard; she once tried to stab the family's dog with a fork. She was inserting toys into her vagina – mostly marbles and crayons – and she was already using rough language, including the phrase "butt fuck." Whether David-Campbell was able to identify the cause of Christina's behavioral issues or whether her behavior improved with therapy isn't clear. (David-Campbell told the court that, by the end of 1992, she'd seen Christina roughly 150 times and that Christina's behaviors would wax and wane.) But as the summer of 1991 wore on, she said, Christina's behaviors were definitely getting worse.

In mid-August, Guinne and David-Campbell said later, they believed they had found the answer to why Christina was so ill-behaved. It didn't explain why Christina had been acting out for so long and in so many different ways, but neither her mother nor her therapist acknowledged that in court. Instead, they moved quickly to a single explanation: Christina had been abused at Fran's Day Care.

On Aug. 15, 1991, Guinne picked Christina up from the Kellers' at about 1:30pm, to take her to a 2pm session with David-Campbell. According to Guinne, she was driving on MoPac toward the therapist's office when Christina volunteered that she didn't like Danny. "I asked her why," Guinne testified in November 1992. "She said that he hurt her – he had hurt her and pulled her panties down and spanked her and he pooed and peed on her head." Guinne said she decided not to ask too many questions, "because I didn't know how to handle that exactly and figured that we were going to counseling and that was the best place to handle all of whatever she had to say."

At the office, David-Campbell brought out a pair of anatomically correct dolls for Christina – so she could show the therapist and mother what it was that Danny had done. After Danny defecated on her head, she said, Fran washed it out "with blue shampoo." Then, she said, Danny "had taken a writing pen and put it up her," Guinne told the court. Christina then started pointing to the hole on the female doll that represents a vagina and "started showing us" where the pen had gone. "[W]e asked her, 'One time?' And she said no," Guinne said. "She started counting on her fingers, lots of times, started going, 'One, two, three, four, five.'"

That evening at home, Guinne said she heard Christina crying in the bathroom. She told her mother that it "hurts inside" when she urinated. Christina kept pointing to her vagina and contorting her labia to make her genitalia look like "a face." She said that Danny had taught her that. Then Christina said that there was also "glue" stuck inside her – she said, "Danny took his pee-pee and put it in her hole and got glue all stuck inside and all over her, and it was yucky." Guinne called the doctor and rushed Christina to Brackenridge.

Dr. Michael Mouw was on duty in the Brack­en­ridge emergency room when Guinne arrived with her daughter just after 11pm. In five years of medical practice, Mouw had evaluated approximately 30 children who were suspected victims of sexual abuse, but he did not have specialized training in that area, he told jurors. Guinne told Mouw that in the previous weeks her daughter had been "crawling behind furniture and trying to insert toys into her vagina," Mouw recalled in court. Guinne also told him that Christina had previously been abused. Mouw tested for semen but found nothing. He did, however, find that Christina's genitalia were red and noted "what appeared to be lacerations to the hymen at three and nine o'clock," he testified.

Could the injuries be "of a traumatic origin?" Assistant District Attorney Bryan Case asked.

"Yes," he said, and could be "consistent" with an allegation of sexual abuse.

Under defense questioning, Mouw testified that the injuries could also have been the result of Christina's own actions.

Bad Witnesses

Roger Wade, now the affable spokesman for the Travis Co. Sheriff's Office, was the department's only child abuse investigator at the time. When he arrived at work on Aug. 16, 1991, there was a new case waiting for him: an allegation that Christina Chaviers had been sexually abused at Fran's Day Care. Immediately, Wade thought of the McMartin Preschool case, a notorious day care abuse case in California that had dragged on for a decade – he did not want that to happen here. "My greatest fear was that it would turn into a long, drawn-out McMartin case. I didn't want that to happen; I wanted to do it right," he recently recalled. (See "The Satanic Abuse Scare.")

Wade set out to investigate. He visited Christina, her mother, and therapist David-Campbell that day and called in one of the TCSO's video interviewers, Karen Knox, to sit down with Christina for a forensic interview – a 13-minute session that produced, at best, mixed results. Under Knox's urging, Christina, at one point, said that Danny had touched her with his penis, but several minutes later said that Danny had neither touched nor hurt her. (See "Children and Testimony.")

Wade called in a state child-care licensing investigator, and the pair went to visit Fran and Danny. They told them there had been an allegation of sexual abuse; the couple denied any wrongdoing. Moreover, Fran told Wade he should be wary of any allegations coming from Christina, because she was a troubled girl whom she'd caught in several small lies. Wade told Danny there was medical evidence that showed the girl had been molested. Danny again denied he'd done anything and "continued to say that he did not abuse any kids and that anyone who would should be shot and put out of their misery," Wade wrote in his report. Wade and the licensing investigator advised the Kellers that Danny should have no contact with the children while the investigation was ongoing.

Five days later, Wade got a call from David-Campbell, who told him that during their session that day, Christina had picked up the anatomically correct dolls, undressed them, and then demonstrated how Danny had penetrated her with his penis. Moreover, David-Campbell said that Christina was now saying that Fran had performed oral sex on her and had forced her to perform the same on Fran. Christina's story was "believable," David-Campbell offered, "and she has no doubt that the sexual abuse took place," Wade wrote in his report. The therapist also said that she had a new patient, Vijay Staelin, who was also a child in day care at the Kellers' – if she thought the child had been abused at Fran's, she told Wade, she'd be sure to call.

ImageJulia Dietz
Photo by Jana Birchum

Wade brought Christina back to the office for a second interview, this time to discuss the allegations regarding Fran. But Christina refused to talk with the interviewer, Ester Vela, who was filling in for Knox; Christina left the interview room several times, pretended to be asleep, and tried to convince Vela to let her watch TV. Vela ended the interview, and Wade decided to reschedule the meeting after Knox returned from vacation.

But Wade's straightforward investigation soon began to go sideways. Vijay's father, Earl Staelin, called to say his son was acting strangely – crawling around on the floor when he already knew how to walk, for example. And, he said, Vijay was coming home "exhausted after just a half day at Fran's." Indeed, Earl told the Chronicle that he and his wife began to suspect that Vijay was being drugged by the Kellers. His wife, Carol Staelin, "observed that he'd come [home] like he had been drugged, with rings around his eyes," he recently recalled.

As the investigation moved into the fall, allegations against the Kellers began to accumulate. Sandra Nash called to say that her 5-year-old son, Brendan, told his therapist that there were "secrets at Fran and Danny's house." The day care was officially shut down in September, pending the outcome of the investigation, and Wade began getting regular phone calls from the parents of all three children, wanting to fill him in on allegations their children were making during therapy sessions and at home under questioning by their parents. In early October, Carol called to say that Vijay said "pee pee on hair" and that Danny did it; later, she said, Vijay told her that Danny had put a rope around all the kids' necks and said he would "cut off [Vijay's] head with a knife" if he told "any secrets." Suzanne Guinne called to tell Wade that Christina said the Kellers had poked her legs with needles – Guinne also now thought the kids may have been drugged. Carol Staelin called again, saying that Vijay told her the Kellers had made him drink "pee" and eat "poo"; in a subsequent call, she told Wade that Vijay reported that Danny had killed the Kellers' dog. Wade assured her that he'd seen the dog when he was at the Kellers' house and that he was "very much alive."

In mid-October, David-Campbell called to say that Vijay and Christina were now telling her similar stories about the Kellers abusing animals – stomping on cats, sticking them with pens, and putting them in bags and tossing them in a Dumpster. And, she said, she'd come to the conclusion that the children may have been victims of "ritual abuse" at the day care. Later, Wade said, the therapist said the abuse might have been "satanic."

The allegations against the couple, Wade said recently, kept coming, each more elaborate than the last. The children said the Kellers took the kids on plane rides, dug up bodies at a cemetery, made them drink Kool-Aid infused with blood, killed a baby, and tortured several small animals. The Kellers "had chopping knives, and they tied [Brendan's] arm down and told him to lay with his arm out and to close his eyes, and they made a big chop down with the knife," Sandra Nash told the television show American Justice in 1993. "And they told him not to look, that Daniel Keller had chopped off his arm, [and] that they took out the bone and they put ... Satan's bone" in its place. (Sean and Sandra Nash did not respond to an interview request. Brendan Nash could not be reached.)

All of these elaborate abuses, the children said, happened at the Kellers' day care – a place where parents (and often neighbors) dropped by at all different times of the day. Wade was becoming increasingly skeptical. He began to question David-Campbell's methods and expertise. "That was one of the things about this case. ... To me it appeared she was ... someone unfamiliar with forensic interviewing," Wade said recently. "I was continually trying to figure out how the little girl would've come up with [these stories]. As we got further into the case and I started talking to the therapist," Wade began to suspect that some of the stories were coming from her. He continued, "You can ask a child a certain thing a certain way, and they'll say, 'yes.' And you can ask a certain thing a different way, and they'll say, 'no.'" (David-Campbell did not respond to phone calls requesting an interview for this story.)

Wade was also concerned that the children's parents had (perhaps unwittingly) influenced their children by repeatedly questioning them about what bad things happened at day care. The investigation was beginning to look more and more like the McMartin fiasco. Indeed, many of the allegations by the children from Fran's Day Care were eerily similar to those made by children in the McMartin case. In that case, a number of the children, now adults, have come forward to say that the allegations they made were not true. Notably, in a 2005 Los Angeles Times story, former McMartin child Kyle Zirpolo said that he'd made up stories after strenuous and repeated questioning by therapists and parents who simply wouldn't accept his early assurances that no abuse had taken place. "It was an ordeal," he told journalist Debbie Nathan. "I remember thinking to myself, 'I'm not going to get out of here unless I tell them what they want to hear.'"

Wade said dealing with the parents involved in the Keller case was frustrating. To an adult, for example, Christina's allegation that Danny had put "glue" into her might sound damning, but Wade wondered where she might have come up with that language. He asked Christina's mother. Actually, Guinne told him, Christina "had been playing with glue at the house" that night before telling her mother "that Danny put glue inside of her," Wade wrote in his report. "Suzanne said she thought that [Christina] just put the two together." But Guinne insisted she never told Christina to "say anything" and had "no reason to 'get'" the Kellers.

When other parents began calling him, Wade asked Guinne whether she'd had any contact with anyone from the day care since reporting the alleged abuse. Guinne told him she'd "purposely" stayed away from the other children but that she had called the parents to tell them about the allegations of abuse and that they might not want to take their kids there. During October 1991, Wade admonished her on at least two occasions not to contact the other parents – whether she heeded his advice is unclear. "It was rather frustrating when you have parents that are connected to each other ... that really want to get together and compare notes, but I tried to discourage that because it made them bad witnesses," said Wade. "I was getting frustrated with the whole case. And the longer it went on, the more embellishments were coming from the kids. Part of the problem was that ... the kids were going to the same counselor." The other problem, he felt sure, was that the parents were urging their kids to reveal more details – and as it was with McMartin, Wade feels certain that was the origin of many of the allegations. Many years later, Wade believes that some abuse had taken place – but that the wild tales made it impossible to determine the nature or extent of any actual abuse. "Overzealous parents and therapists who wanted more information," he said. "I think [they were pushing the kids] trying to get them to talk, and the kids were expanding on things to get them to be quiet."

Graveyard Rituals

That's not how prosecutors Case and Ship­way saw things. "I think kids are pretty easily intimidated, and they don't always understand what is going on," said Shipway. While some of the allegations might sound wild, she and Case believe they were actually the result of conscious actions by the Kellers that were designed to scare the kids. For example, said Shipway, one of the allegations Christina made was that the Kellers had threatened to throw her to the sharks. "Well, we didn't know where that came from" until the end of the trial, when a witness mentioned that the Kellers had small blow-up sharks in the backyard pool. "So you could see how somebody says, 'You [tell], and we're going to throw you in with the sharks,'" she said. "Because she's real young." Case agrees: "That's pretty common. And sometimes the threats are strange. ... That wouldn't make sense to an adult, because an adult would say, well, a person could never do that," he said. "But nevertheless, that could intimidate a child." Overall, the prosecutors say, the children's allegations were believable.

Wade still wasn't convinced, but then the case shifted in yet a different direction. According to Christina, the Kellers had help abusing the children from a dark-haired woman and a man that looked like Kenny Rogers. As it turns out, Danny Keller was a longtime friend of Precinct 3 Deputy Constable Janise White, and it wasn't long before White and her partner, Raul Quintero, were in the investigative spotlight. Wade, who was close to White, didn't feel that he could go any further with the case, which is what he told Rosemary Lehmberg, then head of the D.A.'s child abuse division and recently elected Travis Co. D.A. "We all sat down, and I said, 'I've gone as far as I want to go, as far as I can go,'" Wade said.

As a result, to avoid potential conflicts, the case was moved to the Austin Police Department, where then-Sgt. Larry Oliver was one of two officers who took up the investigation. Oliver's job was to get to know the kids and their families. "I'm dealing with the kids," he said, "not ... the bad guys." The families were suspicious of him at first, he recalled, because they didn't think the Sheriff's Office had taken their stories seriously.

Oliver did. "My job was to establish trust so that I could interview the kids." He met with Christina and her mother at the Oak Hill McDonald's and went on drives in the area, during which the little girl would point out places she said she'd been taken by the Kellers. "We heard from the kids that they'd dug up a body at the cemetery," Oliver recalled. So he took Christina to a small private cemetery just down the road from the Kellers' home. To Oliver it seemed clear that Christina had been there before – moreover, he said, there was at least one grave site there that "looked like" it had been disturbed. "I walked around with a video camera; she walked around and said, 'Yes, we'd been here, and we did this,'" he said. At the Kellers' trial, police witnesses revealed that they'd even had a Department of Public Safety helicopter fly over the cemetery with an infrared camera, looking for a heat signature that would confirm that a grave had been disturbed. Case told American Justice that he too had seen disturbed graves at the cemetery – including one from 1970 that had fresh dirt on it.

Asked recently about this history, a cemetery representative told the Chronicle that the police had indeed been to the site asking questions, and they were told that there was a simple explanation for the grave that looked disturbed: A man had been buried there without a concrete vault, and his coffin kept sinking, so the man's son often added dirt to the site. "It was a continuous thing," the cemetery representative said. "There was nothing going on there." Although the police supposedly had this information, Danny Keller's defense attorney Dain Whitworth said it was not disclosed to the defense. "We never got it," he said. Knowing that information, Whitworth added, would have helped the defense counter the sensational testimony, suggested the children's accusations were unreliable, or even prevented the state from introducing that entire line of testimony.

ImageSgt. Larry Oliver
Photo by Jana Birchum

Case said that Shipway recently reviewed the APD reports and found no mention of anyone from the cemetery telling police about a reason that fresh dirt would be used on the grave. She asked APD's Oliver if he had any independent recollection of that exchange, Case wrote, but Oliver said that "no one told him that anyone had been pouring earth on any of the graves as maintenance." In fact, while Oliver did record details of visiting the cemetery in his report, there's no indication there that anyone from the department ever sought out the cemetery owners to inquire about the possibility that graves had been disturbed. That entire line of investigation, it seems, was ignored.

The state's case against the Kellers was strong enough to secure indictments against the couple and, eventually, against deputy con­stables White and Quintero, thanks in large part to a "confession" provided to Texas Rangers by White's ex-husband, Doug Perry. White was a good friend of Danny Keller's, and after she and Perry married, the two couples socialized regularly. Nearly a year after the investigation began, Texas Rangers questioned Perry at the DPS offices. After four hours of questioning, he signed a confession, saying he had participated in a "beer and sex party" (as it was described in news reports) with the Kellers, White, and Quintero, where the adults took turns abusing Christina and Brendan, whom Perry identified only after the Rangers showed him video of the two children. White supposedly took pictures of the incident, which Perry said he'd seen.

Within weeks, however, Perry recanted, saying that the Rangers had coerced him into making the statement. He said they had told Perry there were several witnesses who said he had been at the day care. "At this time I started giving them the first statement," Perry wrote in an August 1992 affidavit. "I was scared because the officers were not believing me so I started making up a story. I basically started telling them what I thought they wanted to hear." Notably, the Rangers made no audio or video recording of Perry's interview. His confession was graphic but not particularly compelling in detail. What details there were, Perry said, were gleaned from information contained in a TCSO report that White had brought home. (White later denied ever reading the report.)

The prosecutors did not – and do not – believe Perry's recantation. "I don't think we put too much stock in the recantation," said Case, in part because it is not uncommon for suspects to recant – particularly in universally unsavory child sex-abuse cases. But it is also not uncommon for innocent people to confess to notorious crimes – it's one of the reasons investigators withhold significant details that only the actual offender would know.

Wade does not believe Perry's confession at all. "I never understood why he would confess, when, obviously, he didn't have any involvement and none of that happened," he said. "It came out afterward that [White and Quintero] had nothing to do with it." After the Kellers were convicted, the D.A.'s office dropped the charges against White and Quintero. Perry was never tried but pled guilty and was sentenced to 10 years probation. He's now in prison for failing to keep current his sex offender registration.

The Keller prosecutors dismiss Perry's assertion that he'd repeated details from the TCSO report, but Wade believes that was precisely the source of Perry's information. Wade said a number of TCSO employees were logging on to the department computers to read Wade's reports, and he was alerted by a clerk that White, a former deputy, was among them. It got so bad, he said, that for a while he stopped entering any information into the computer.

Attorney Joe Turner, who represented Quin­tero, said that Perry's confession was not at all believable and that it calls into question the case against the Kellers. If the case was so strong without Perry's confession and if the state was sure about the stories the children were telling them, why were the charges against his client dropped? "If [Christina] is not believed on my case, how is [she] believable in a case that ends up with people serving time in prison?" he asks. "Anybody looking at it would have to question" that. (In a letter to the Chronicle, Perry insisted that his confession was coerced. "I wish that I could change everything, but I can't," he wrote. "I'm only hoping that the Kellers will find it in their hearts to forgive me.")

Although Perry had recanted, Shipway and Case successfully argued to District Judge William Flowers that he should be compelled to testify – and when he said on the stand that he had not abused the children and that the Kellers did not either, they were able to introduce his confession as a means of impeaching his testimony. Defense attorney Whitworth argued that it was improper for the state to call a witness only to impeach him. Flowers allowed the questionable testimony to go forward but approved a jury charge instructing jurors not to give evidentiary weight to any impeachment testimony affecting a witness' credibility.

The damage, however, had been done, said Whitworth. One juror, a University of Texas professor who spoke to the Chronicle but asked not to be identified by name, was convinced during the trial that the Kellers were being subjected to a witch hunt, as part of the national wave of sensational day care abuse cases. That was until Perry took the stand. A final holdout, the juror recalls ultimately voting for conviction because of Perry's introduced confession – once it was out there, how could the jury be expected to ignore it? Still, the juror had serious qualms about the evidence – and after the verdict was read, fled to the bathroom and wept.

Satan's Arm Bone

Prosecutor Case insists that the state did not rely solely on Perry's confession for its conviction. What "cinched" the case, Case said recently, was the testimony of Brendan Nash. Brendan spoke to jurors via closed-circuit TV and was very vocal about all the things he said happened at "hate care." He said he'd seen Fran and Danny abuse Christina and that the couple had taken the kids to a "graveyard and dug up this body." They made Christina carry all the bones that they dug up, he said.

Yet Brendan's testimony at trial departed strikingly from what he told TCSO interviewer Ester Vela during his first interview in 1991. There, Brendan said that he did know that there were some things that Danny did that were wrong – he took out a chain saw to cut down trees in the back yard; he allowed Brendan to ride on the lawn mower; he had two guns in the house, a pistol and a shotgun; and he let Brendan ride in the pickup truck to get hay for the horse, Fancy Dancer. When Vela asked if Brendan knew about Christina getting hurt, he said he knew she had and said that "Danny could've been the one that did it." But he said he liked the day care and that no one had ever touched him improperly. When Vela asked if he had any secrets about day care, he said no. "Are you telling me what really happened over at Fran and Danny's house?" Vela asked.

"Yes," he said.

It's not surprising that Brendan did not make any allegations during his first forensic interview, insists Case, because it is not "unusual" for kids not to open up about abuse the first time around. "It would take a long time, because a child of those years might be very uncomfortable and uneasy with it." Case said that it wasn't until right before the start of the trial that Brendan finally acknowledged what happened at day care, and in fact, Case said that he was the one to whom Brendan opened up, during an interview in his office on a Sunday afternoon.

Case did not record that interview. "Frankly, it never crossed my mind to record him," he said – but, in retrospect, he said he wished he had done so, "because your hair would stand up too if you heard" what Brendan had to say. Case said that Brendan said the Kellers had performed a ritual on him in which they said they replaced his arm with the arm bone of Satan. When asked at trial why he didn't tell Vela what had happened with Christina, Brendan said that was "because Fran and Danny ... gave us these drugs that won't make us remember ... very long." He knew he'd been drugged, he said, because "God told me."

ImageThe private Oak Hill cemetery where investigators alleged that children were taken by the Kellers
Photo by Jana Birchum

Defense attorney Whitworth cross-examined Brendan. "How many times have your mommy and daddy talked to you about all of this?" he asked Brendan. "Well, I have to count that one," he said. Brendan said that in addition to talking with the prosecutors, police, and a therapist, he'd talked with his parents 21 times about the Kellers' day care.

Case says he tried to determine whether anyone had been suggesting things to Brendan, but the child's mother, Sandra Nash, insisted she had not. "I mean, you know, could people be pulling the wool over our eyes?" Case asked. "They could, yeah, theoretically." Ultimately, he does not believe that a child would make these things up. That belief was shared by APD's investigator Larry Oliver and, especially, therapist David-Campbell, who told jurors that children simply don't create stories out of whole cloth. "With a child ... they don't have the cognitive, the mental abilities to make up stories unless they have seen something or if a story has been read to them," David-Campbell said.

In fact, there is a growing body of psychological research reflecting that, essentially, the opposite is true – that children can easily be led to make up stories and even come to believe those stories – often with the help of inexperienced or credulous interviewers. Moreover, experts on the forensic interviewing of children say that the recorded Keller case interviews are prime examples of poor technique and manufactured testimony – effectively useless as evidence. (See "Children and Testimony.")

'Your Case Is Incredible'

Veteran Austin social worker Vivian Lewis, who began her career as a teacher and Child Protective Services caseworker (and, eventually, a child interviewer for the Austin Police Depart­ment), says she was first shown the interview tapes from the Keller case by prosecutors. Now, she says, she actually uses them in seminars across the country (notably, with Depart­ment of Defense child abuse investigators), as examples of how not to interview children. The interviews are rife with "pressure, leading questions, promises of rewards: 'Tell me what Danny did' – really leading questions for a child that age," she said. "I don't know about you, but if you've got a surprise for me, I'll tell you whatever you want to know."

In fact, Lewis says that after the allegations of abuse at Fran's Day Care broke, a number of parents of children who'd taken their kids to the Kellers' brought their children to Lewis. "I did extensive interviewing. I feel strongly [that] I did not interview any child who had any [signs of being] abused in their care," she said. "So it was very peculiar to me. I probably interviewed eight or nine of those kids, male and female. The parents brought them to me just frantic," she continued. "There was just nothing that I could get out of them."

The fact that the children Lewis independently interviewed showed no signs of abuse piqued her interest about what Christina and Brendan had told prosecutors, so she asked to see the tapes. What she saw intensified her concern that the D.A.'s case was without merit, which is exactly what she told Case, she said recently. "I said, 'Your case is incredible.' He said, 'That means it's not true.' I said, 'That's why I used that word.'" She said she explained the problems she found on the tapes, but her concerns were ignored by the D.A.'s office, so Lewis sought out the Kellers' defenders. "I left a message for the defense attorney, that I was very concerned about the videotapes. I never heard back." Whitworth says now he was not aware of Lewis' involvement, and Case did not respond to additional questions regarding Lewis' account. But in a recent interview, prosecutors said they were only aware of one parent – a friend of the Kellers, they said – who came forward saying that she did not believe her children had been abused and that the Kellers were innocent.

Yet at least one other parent, Teresa Chambers, who had two children in day care at the Kellers' home, told the Chronicle she also found no signs that her children had been abused. Chambers interviewed Fran Keller before deciding to enroll her kids there; she was cautious because her older son had previously been physically abused in day care and sustained a serious head injury. She met with Fran and toured the house before deciding to leave her children there. When the allegations of abuse broke, Chambers said she was contacted by investigators who told her that there was video evidence of abuse. "I want[ed] to know if my children are on those videotapes. I wanted to know what [police] had, specifically," she recalled. The investigator, whose name she could not remember, "said, 'Just assume that all the children at that day care were abused.' This is verbatim; I remember it as if it were yesterday." She looked for signs, but never found any.

And police never found any photos or videotape evidence of any abuse.

Prosecutors Case and Shipway say they reviewed the children's interviews, keeping an eye out for any bias from the interviewers or problems with suggestive questioning. They said they found none. "I think they were conducted well," said Shipway. "The important thing was that it was on video. So if it was leading questions or something was improper, the defense could see that and bring it to the jury." But if the accusations made on the tapes are the result of flawed interviewing techniques, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether Christina (or other children) was actually abused, says James Wood, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso and a nationally recognized expert in children's suggestibility and child interviewing. In other words, it raises questions about whether a crime ever happened.

Sheriff's investigator Wade says he felt that the parents and therapists were complicit in eliciting the more fantastical allegations from the children – allegations he did not believe. And those just got in the way of the basic, first abuse allegation that Christina made, the one for which the state had its single piece of physical evidence – Dr. Mouw's report that Christina might have been sexually abused. That convinced Wade that Christina had been abused at the day care. "I truly believe there was some abuse, and I believe Fran and Danny did it," he said. "Had we not had the physical evidence, it wouldn't be as good a case because there would have been ... doubt."

Doubtful Diagnosis

But was there really any physical evidence of abuse?

Contacted for this story, Dr. Michael Mouw, who examined Christina at Brackenridge Hospital on Aug. 15, 1991, now says he's not so sure that what he saw during his genital examination was, in fact, abuse. "I'll be straight-up honest with you, I could've been wrong about [this]," he said. "At the time, in good faith, I saw something [I thought] was abnormal" about Christina's hymen. "However, in retrospect, knowing what I know now, [having] seen more detailed photos" of normal hymens and "knowing how to do exams" with newer, more precise medical equipment, Mouw said he isn't at all sure he would come to the same conclusion. He said he remembers sitting in a presentation several years after the Keller case where he was learning about advancements in the understanding of what "normal" genitalia look like "and thinking back to this case," he said. Mouw said he remembered being shown pictures of "normal variants" on the appearance of hymens, "and I remember seeing a picture that kind of reminded me of that case, and I said, 'Huh.' I hadn't seen it before, but it was described in that talk as being normal," he said. "I think that if I had that case now, I'd probably decline to [do the exam and would] send it to an expert. And I would decline to testify."

Mouw said he had been unaware, but is concerned, that his was the only piece of physical evidence prosecutors had to back up the allegation that Christina had been abused. In part, he said, his conclusion might have been influenced by the guilt bias that tends to prevail in the emergency room: "In the ER it is always guilty until proven innocent. I'm serious. My attitude has evolved away from that," he said. "And I'm always interested in protecting children, but I think there is a lot of rush to judgment." Although Mouw said that he saw something that night that was not "normal to me," he might have been wrong. "This is my long way of saying that I wouldn't touch that [case] with a 10-foot pole now."

Without the physical evidence provided by Mouw, the state's case against the Kellers would have been seriously weakened. Defense attorney Whitworth thought the fantastic allegations of the children – graveyard rituals, airplane flights to Mexico that could not have occurred, physically impossible actions – would undercut their believability. It didn't work that way in court.

ImageDanny Keller riding Fancy Dancer with one of the kids at the day care
Photo courtesy of the Kellers

Instead, prosecutors called to the stand a clinical psychologist and controversial "expert" in satanic ritual abuse. On the stand, psychologist and self-described satanic ritual abuse expert James Noblitt said that he had reviewed David-Campbell's files on Christina as well as the video interviews of the children and found no evidence that anyone was influencing them to make the allegations. Because of the level of detail in her allegations, Noblitt testified, "I don't think it is likely that [Christina] got these ideas from any external source." He testified about the "death and rebirth themes" in cult rituals and, without objection from the defense, laid out his version of the infamous Salem witch trials and described how this case was definitely different than those. In that situation, "little girls" were describing "fantasy events" that didn't happen. Here, the children have described real events. "This is no witch hunt," he said.

Professor Wood was stunned that Noblitt's testimony was allowed into evidence: "Austin, you know, has a reputation for being progressive and an intellectually enlightened city. So it is really shocking to learn that a D.A. there put an expert on the stand to testify to the reality of 'witchcraft' – satanic ritual abuse – and that a judge allowed it into evidence. ... I've never seen that on any other case I've been on."

Withheld Information

The defense was hamstrung at trial and incapable at times of countering such testimony, in part because of their restricted access to critical evidence – such as David-Campbell's reports, the children's videos, the police reports, and Dr. Mouw's medical report. For example, while the state had the luxury of giving to Noblitt all of the documents related to the case before he testified, the defense had no access to any of those documents until the trial, which meant its expert, psychologist George Parker, had few specifics to offer the jury about his assessment of the case. Moreover, the defense was not given documents – such as David-Campbell's therapy notes – until it came time for them to cross-examine the state's witnesses, which often made their examinations of the witnesses seem choppy at best and inevitably incomplete.

Whitworth said recently that he was frustrated by the way the D.A.'s office made information available to the defense. "They handled it differently than other cases," he said. "On other cases, they always had an open file policy. Here, they'd read parts of the file [to the defense], but we never knew what they were referring to – you never knew what they were reading from" or how it fit into the bigger picture. "They'd read us parts of the reports, but they wouldn't give us any of the stuff until it was our turn to cross[-examine witnesses]." As a result, he said, the whole trial was "what's going to happen next?"

It also appears there was a good deal of information that Whitworth and co-counsel Lewis Jones simply did not have any access to during trial or thereafter – information that could have cast further doubt on the children's stories.

For example, in August 1993, nine months after the Kellers were convicted, Brendan Nash's parents, Sean and Sandra, filed civil suits against a laundry list of defendants they claimed were responsible for their children being abused at Fran's Day Care, seeking a total of $12.5 million in compensation. In addition to suing Fran and Danny Keller, Raul Quintero, Janise White, and Doug Perry – in hopes of getting a judgment against their homeowners insurance policies – the Nashes' suit cited a host of other defendants, including the Kellers' landlord, Julia Dietz, and others in the neighborhood: Hillside Bar owner Marilyn Cobb, the Oak Hill Gymnastics Academy, and a man named John Trigg. According to the civil suit records, Brendan (and, likely Christina) had told police these additional people had also abused them. The Nashes claimed rituals were held on Dietz's property that "left physical evidence, such as places where fires had been, holes in the ground, animal bones, and dismembered children's toys," and Dietz knew, or should have known, the Nash boy and his infant sister were abused there. They alleged further that the children were taken to the Oak Hill Gymnastics Academy and to the Hillside Bar and were abused there and, finally, that they were taken to another private residence, where a man named John Trigg lived, where the children were "filmed while being abused at this property."

Although these broader allegations by the children are summarized in the APD investigative report, the Kellers and their attorneys only learned of these additional defendants after the trial and conviction, when the civil suits were filed. Indeed, responding to the allegations in the Nash suit, Trigg noted that he had been identified as a suspect during the original police investigation. According to the APD report, on a drive around the neighborhood with police, Brendan had pointed out the home Trigg had been living in as a place where he had been abused – "bad things" had happened there, he said. According to Brendan, Danny had taken the children there and abused them; films had been made, and the house had been modified in some way to "facilitate making these films," Trigg's attorney wrote in a court document. The court files also reflect that Trigg's possible involvement was investigated by police, and Trigg was ultimately cleared as not having been involved.

Trigg "didn't know these people; he didn't have a relationship with any of them," said Ginny Agnew, Trigg's attorney. "But because of the frenzy of the moment, when the child [pointed out the house Trigg was renting] and said something untoward had happened in his house," he got dragged into the case. Agnew says the police investigated and cleared Trigg before the Kellers ever went to trial. That information should have been in the police report, and prosecutors certainly should have given it to Whitworth. But it never was, Whitworth said, and it could've been extremely valuable for the defense to know that the children had fingered other suspects who were cleared by police of being involved in any abuse. "They knew stuff they did not provide to us," Whitworth says.

Additional information was uncovered by former Precinct 3 Constable Drew McAngus, who in 1992 worked for the Kellers' defense counsel as a private investigator. After the civil case was filed, he signed an affidavit saying he had discovered that Nash had made several allegations that were proven not true, information that had not been turned over to the defense. Whitworth filed a motion with the 3rd Court of Appeals, asking it to remand the case to district court for a hearing on the state's "failure to disclose exculpatory evidence." That did not happen, however, in part because shortly after they were convicted, the Kellers fired their appointed attorneys, opting instead to represent themselves on appeal.

Pain, Suffering, and Legal Procedure

Among the saddest aspects of their case is that in the quest to prove their innocence, Fran and Danny Keller may have been their own worst enemies. When initially indicted, they fled Austin, traveling to Las Vegas to stay with Fran's daughter. The media had a field day, and prosecutors played up the "flight" at trial as an indirect admission of guilt. The Kellers say they acted out of fear and were not in hiding. Neither had been in trouble with the law before, and they misunderstood the process, particularly the bonding process. Fran insists that when she asked their attorney, then Revis Kanak, what they should do, he responded that if he were in that position, he'd leave town. Taking the remark literally, Fran and Danny left, although they were readily traceable through their relatives. Kanak did not return phone calls from the Chronicle. (Federal public defender Mike Charlton, who worked on the Kellers' case for a while in the mid-Nineties, said that when he asked Kanak about the incident, the lawyer said only that he didn't recall making that remark.)

The Kellers were also blamed for not showing more emotion during the trial, with the implication that an outraged or shocked demeanor would have lent credence to their claims of innocence. Yet they recall that they were so stunned by the charges they felt as though they were living in a fog. Fran says she was determined to present a stoic, unwavering front – looking at the prosecutors would make her angry; looking at the jury would make her situation too real. "I never looked at the jury," she recalled last summer, "because I didn't want to seem weak. I didn't want to cry." Only when Christina took the stand on the second day of the Kellers' trial and denied that anything bad had happened at day care did Fran break down in tears. In the end, it didn't matter.

The Kellers' certainly erred in their decision to fire their appeal attorney – who Fran said she didn't think was paying enough attention to their case – and instead have Danny file their appeals on his own. Appeals work is detail-oriented and requires specialized legal training, and Danny did not do well. He did not make the right arguments – for example, he did not argue that Perry's testimony had been admitted improperly, an oversight that meant that argument was not preserved for later adjudication. That meant that the Kellers have never had their case fully reviewed by an appeals court. Whether they'll get that chance now is uncertain. Their case is being reviewed by the Innocence Project of Texas, says project general counsel Jeff Blackburn. "We believe that the Kellers are completely innocent," he said. "The problem is that because of the way this case has been handled by the previous lawyers and by the court system, we have to get through a procedural minefield to get back into court. But we are determined to do so, no matter how much money, time, or energy it takes."

Even should the Kellers ever be proven innocent, much damage has already been done – not only to the Kellers, or to the other "suspects" fingered by the children only to be cleared of any involvement, but also to the children themselves. When the Kellers were convicted and sentenced in 1992, Sandra Nash told local TV news that she would tell her son he'd done a good job. "We'll tell him that all of his pain and suffering and his coming forward has taken the power away from Fran and Danny," Nash said, "and given it back to the children." One of the other children involved in the case, Vijay Staelin, now 21, declined to be interviewed, except to briefly reiterate that Fran and Danny Keller had abused him.

During an interview at the state women's prison in Gatesville, I asked Fran Keller about Vijay's assertion. She broke down in tears. "On my life, on my children's lives," she said, "it did not happen."

Watch the video produced by Jana Birchum, including excerpts from one of the child forensic interviews with commentary by psychology professor James Wood. For more on the Keller case, see "Point Austin." ... -children/
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Re: Alleged SRA: Texas Keller Case

Postby elfismiles » Sun Dec 08, 2013 12:20 pm

The Power of Suggestion

Uploaded on Mar 25, 2009

A piece on the role of child questioning in the conviction of Frances and Daniel Keller, who were sentenced to 48 years for child sexual abuse in a Satanic ritual abuse case from the 1990's. The piece focusses on suggestive interviewing of children.

Created as a piece to accompany a feature story in the Austin Chronicle.
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Re: Alleged SRA: Texas Keller Case

Postby elfismiles » Sun Dec 08, 2013 12:25 pm

The Satanic Abuse Scare
By the early Nineties, satanic abuse allegations at day care centers had become a national trend

By Jordan Smith, Fri., March 27, 2009

ImageThe sensational charges against Fran and Danny Keller and their home day care were not unique. By 1992, the year the Kellers were tried, about 100 child-care workers across the country had been charged with ritual sex abuse of children, and 20 day care workers had been convicted in similar cases. The most notorious concerned the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, Calif. There, more than 300 children would eventually make statements accusing their teachers not only of sexually violating them but also of subjecting them to bizarre, ritualistic abuse. Many of the allegations made by children in the McMartin case were curiously similar to those that would be made against the Kellers. In 1990, after a decade in the courts for what became the longest and most expensive criminal case in American history, the McMartin defendants were acquitted.

But the public hysteria surrounding alleged day care abuse, exemplified and fed by the McMartin prosecution, was still very much in the cultural atmosphere. So was a widespread notion that a vast network of Satanists was intent on corrupting and sexually abusing children and that many of its practitioners could be found working in child care. (The cults avoided discovery and prosecution, some claimed, because law enforcement members were themselves part of the satanic network. In the Kellers' case, one parent told Texas Monthly writer Gary Cartwright she suspected longtime District Attorney Ronnie Earle – in part because he lived near a goat farm.)

Partly for this reason, the allegations made by the children against the Kellers were hardly tested at all. Apparently, the prosecutors and some of the police investigators believed at least some of the wildest allegations – specifically, that there was cult abuse at work.

Satanic ritual abuse is a fictional pop-culture archetype – mostly in horror movies – but it was widely introduced to the public as a real, hidden conspiracy with the 1980 publication of the book Michelle Remem­bers. The co-authors, Canadian psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder and a longtime patient of his, Michelle Smith (whom Pazder later married), recount the therapy that led to her purportedly "remembering" that she had been abused in the 1950s by her mother and other members of a "satanic cult" in British Columbia. The book has since been exposed as a hoax by several researchers, but at the time, its revelations – including the notion that there was a widespread cult of Satanists torturing and sexually abusing children – caught public attention and fed the fears of parents who, with many women now in the workplace, were increasingly leaving their children in the care of others during the day. The notion of a powerful, underground cult of Satanists convinced many parents, therapists, and credulous prosecutors, leading to a series of satanic ritual abuse-related child-care cases, beginning with the notorious McMartin case. By the time of the allegations against the Kellers, the satanic ritual abuse script for child abuse was already well established and had not yet met much meaningful challenge.

An excellent history of the satanic ritual abuse panic is Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt, by Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker (Basic Books, 336 pp., 1995). For more information on people wrongly accused or convicted of crimes against children, visit the website of the National Center for Reason and Justice, ... ure2-1.jpg
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Re: Alleged SRA: Texas Keller Case

Postby elfismiles » Mon Mar 14, 2016 8:49 am

March 11, 2016
Vol. 35, No. 28

Table of Contents


Of the current issue ... onicle.pdf

Learning From Our Mistakes
Free, but not exonerated, Fran and Dan Keller are the victims of a continuing injustice
BY MICHAEL KING ... -mistakes/

Notes on Kamp: Unfinished Business
Departing D.A. should exonerate the Kellers
BY AMY KAMP ... -business/

Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s
Kier-La Janisse and Paul Corupe's superb history Satanic Panic revives the Eighties in all its fearful hysteria Kier-La Janisse and Paul Corupe's superb history revives the Eighties in all its fearful hysteria
BY MARC SAVLOV ... nic-panic/

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Re: Alleged SRA: Texas Keller Case

Postby parel » Sat Aug 26, 2017 5:37 pm

Falsely accused Fran and Dan Keller spent years in prison for 'satanic' crimes against children
25 Aug, 2017 3:03pm 9 minutes to read

By Avi Selk

Long before the age of the Internet and the fleeting spasms of mass hysteria that came with it (Remember Jade Helm? Pizzagate?), and going back to the late 20th century, when irrational fears moved slower and lasted longer, there was Satan.

The "satanic panic," some call it now. It began some time in the 1980s, when newscasters and fundamentalist Christian cartoons warned of the evils of the role-playing game "Dungeons & Dragons," and stretched into the 1990s, when police and psychiatrists saw thousands of unfounded accusations of ritualistic sex abuse and children were seized from British parents accused of devil worship.

One case still stands out.

"This country hasn't seen anything like it since the Salem witch trials," Texas Monthly wrote in 1994, in a profile of Austin, Texas, day-care operators Dan and Fran Keller, who had been thrown in prison two years earlier.

The Kellers had been convicted of sexual assault in 1992. Children from their day-care center accused them - variously - of serving blood-laced Kool Aid; wearing white robes; cutting the heart out of a baby; flying children to Mexico to be raped by soldiers; using Satan's arm as a paintbrush; burying children alive with animals; throwing them in a swimming pool with sharks; shooting them; and resurrecting them after they had been shot.

They were hardly the only people to be accused by children during the panic. Many were exonerated long ago - like the 20 people wrongly convicted in the infamous Kern County sex abuse cases. Some now blame the phenomenon on "a quack cadre of psychotherapists who were convinced that they could dig up buried memories through hypnosis," as Radley Balko wrote in a column for The Washington Post.

But the Kellers suffered for decades.

They served nearly 22 years in prison before a court released them in 2013, after years of work by journalists and lawyers to expose what proved to be a baseless case against them.

And only now - when Fran Keller is 67 and Dan is 75 - has the couple been fully exonerated. Their 1992 case was finally dismissed in June after a district attorney declared them innocent.

This week, the Austin American-Statesman reported, they were awarded US$3.4 million from a state fund - a belated attempt to refund a quarter-century that they lost to the delusions of other people.

"We can start living," Fran Keller told the newspaper after learning of the award Tuesday. "No more nightmares."

'Cut up the body with a chainsaw while all the children helped'

"Terror at the day care," blared the Vancouver Sun in 1992, in prose typical of early coverage of the Kellers. "It didn't look like a haunted house. But the kids knew better."

Fran's Day Care Center actually looked entirely charming, as described by Texas Monthly in one of the few measured stories from that era.

Opened in 1989, it had cages of rabbits and a pony named Dancer, a playground and swimming pool, tucked into a leafy Austin neighborhood "as tidy and pastoral as a cottage in a fairy tale," Texas Monthly wrote.

The couple lived at the same house - Fran in her 40s and Dan in his 50s - and cared for about 15 children each day, including some who had histories of emotional problems and abuse.

One day in 1991, Fran recalled in an interview with KXAN, only two children were dropped off. Then police knocked on the door and sat with her in the kitchen.

"They told me Dan was accused of hurting a child," she said. "And I knew that couldn't be true."

What began as a single accusation from a 3-year-old girl with known behavioural problems, Texas Monthly wrote, "escalated to monstrous proportions" after authorities closed the day care.

Worried parents sent their children to therapists, where they came back with tales pulled straight from horror movies.

At one point in the investigation, the Statesman wrote, police had a suspect list of "26 ritual abusers, including many of the Kellers' neighbours and a respected Austin police captain."

As an appeals court judges recounted decades later, one girl claimed that Dan Keller "had come to her house and had cut her dog's vagina with a chainsaw until it bled, that she was taken to a cemetery, where, after a person dressed like a policeman threw a person in a hole, Daniel Keller shot the person who had been thrown into the hole and cut up the body with a chainsaw while all the children helped."

And parents began to reinterpret day-to-day activities at the day care as sinister omens.

The Kellers had once sent children home with American flags, one parent told the Vancouver Sun. The flag "reminds them, 'Don't tell,' " the parent said.

The panic was already beginning to subside in other parts of the world. A three-year inquiry by the British government in the early 1990s concluded that "there was no foundation to the plethora of satanic child abuse claims," according to the BBC.

"These tales are usually just that - figments of imagination," the New York Times wrote in 1994, citing a study by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect that found not a single substantiated case of cult sex abuse among more than 11,000 reported to psychiatric and police workers.

Nevertheless, the Kellers were convicted after a six-day trial in 1992.

Not of chainsawing a dog's vagina, of course - but of aggravated sexual assault based on the word of children and police, and a single piece of physical evidence: an apparent wound on a girl's vagina.

That, too, would turn out to be wrong - but not before the Kellers stood in a Travis County courthouse and heard their sentences read aloud: 48 years each.

Dan and Fran Keller pose outside of the Travis County courthouse in Austin, Texas. The Texas couple will receive $3.4 million from the state. Photo / AP
Dan and Fran Keller pose outside of the Travis County courthouse in Austin, Texas. The Texas couple will receive $3.4 million from the state. Photo / AP
'I could've been wrong'

"You prayed a lot," Fran Keller told KXAN, remembering when the whole world seemed to believe she and her husband were monsters.

"And you sat there. And you was like a zombie."

She was sent to a women's prison near Marlin, where she became a target because of the allegations that she had abused children. She spent her time dodging boiling water and learning about shanks, she told the station.

Dan served his time near Amarillo, Texas Monthly wrote, where he wrote poems and tried "to figure out what happened to the life he once knew."

They lived like that for years, never seeing each other, fading from the headlines as the 20th century passed away and the satanic panic went with it.

But some remembered.

Then, in 2009, the Austin Chronicle wrote an article called "Believing the Children" - 10,000 words that tore apart what aspects of the Keller's case had not sounded wholly fantastical to begin with.

An emergency room doctor who had testified of wounds on a little girl's vagina had since reconsidered after learning more about female anatomy. He told the Chronicle reporter, "I'll be straight-up honest with you, I could've been wrong."

State troopers had once flown over a cemetery, investigating claims that the Kellers took children there to dig up a grave. Evidence at the trial showed the earth had indeed been disturbed.

But a cemetery worker told the Chronicle that the coffin in that particular grave kept sinking, and the occupant's son regularly came by and threw more dirt on it. Thus the disturbance. Moreover, the Chronicle reported, police had known this but it had not been mentioned in the trial.

The article has many such examples of evidence that didn't hold up to scrutiny.

Austin lawyer Keith Hampton read the Chronicle's story and thought, "Oh, dear God," he later recalled to Texas Monthly.

Thereafter, Hampton began working for free to overturn the Kellers' conviction.

They appealed the case in 2013, according to the Statesman. The doctor's testimony proved crucial. Hampton put him under oath, and he said in no uncertain terms: "I was mistaken."

That November, around Dan Keller's 72nd birthday, both he and his wife walked free on bond while an appeals court considered a permanent reversal.

The couple had not seen each other in more than two decades.

"My heart lit up," Dan Keller told KXAN a few months later.

But officially, they were still sex predators - always looking over their shoulders, accused by many people of horrible things.

"All I can say is I hope one day you change your mind," Fran Keller said.

'You can't get a job as a child molester'

The next year, an appeals court unanimously overturned the Kellers' convictions based on false testimony.

"This was a witch hunt from the beginning," one judge wrote, comparing the case to the Salem witch trials of the 17th century, in which 22 women were hanged before Massachusetts reversed the convictions.

But without explaining why, the appeals court declined one of the Kellers' central requests: refusing to declare them innocent in 2015. Several children who originally accused the couple still oppose their release, the Statesman reported.

The Kellers kept pushing for public redemption. They were finally declared "actually innocent" by the Travis County district attorney in June, the newspaper wrote. That made them eligible for a state programme that pays wrongfully convicted people US$80,000 for each year they spent in prison - a very large cumulative sum, in the Kellers' extraordinary case.

The couple had been getting by on Social Security checks and the help of friends, they told the Statesman.

"It's been really, really rough," Fran Keller said. "You can't get a job as a 'child molester.' "

Nevertheless, they used their freedom to involve themselves in the cases of others they believe to be wrongfully imprisoned.

They were standing outside a Texas jail in support of one such man Tuesday, when their lawyer called with the news that they were millionaires.

"They are now compensated and no longer must fear homelessness or lack of health insurance," the lawyer, Hampton, wrote to KXAN. "They are buying a home and can live out their lives in peace and quiet."

The Kellers were expected to pick up a check for $3.4 million this week - though maybe millions isn't so much when stretched across two decades and the darkest fantasies of children.

Fran Keller put it this way to the Statesman:

"It means we will actually be free." ... ref=NZH_fb
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