Criminal Justice

Day care providers who blame satanic panic for 21-year prison stint are 'actually innocent,' DA says

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A Texas prosecutor is dropping charges against an Austin couple who spent more than 20 years in prison for alleged sexual abuse of a child at their day care center in a case that involved fantastic allegations of satanic rituals.

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore announced on Tuesday that she is dropping the charges against Dan and Fran Keller because she thinks they are actually innocent of the crime, the Austin American-Statesman reports in stories here and here.

The couple won reversals of their convictions in 2015, but the decision fell short of a full exoneration. Moore’s decision could make the couple eligible for as much as $3.4 million in state compensation.

The Kellers attribute their 1992 convictions to a satanic panic. The three children who accused them told increasingly lurid stories of dismembered babies, desecrated corpses, baby-eating sharks, videotaped sex with children, and blood-laced Kool-Aid. No such evidence was ever found.

In its 2015 decision, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction because a doctor who testified about indications of sexual abuse of the child recanted his testimony. According to the court, the doctor later concluded that indications of what he thought to be sexual trauma were actually normal variations in anatomy.

Fran Keller, 67, was elated by the prosecutor’s decision. “It seems like we can breathe again,” she told the American-Statesman. “We can sleep again without nightmares.”

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