AUSTIN, Texas – Former day care owners who spent 21 years in prison before being freed amid questions over their convictions for child abuse involving satanic rituals are struggling to convince prosecutors that they should be fully exonerated.
Dan and Fran Keller, who divorced in prison, were freed on bond last year when the only physical evidence against them was found to be a mistake. They had been convicted in 1992 after therapists testified that they helped three children recover memories of satanic rituals and sexual abuse at an Austin preschool the Kellers operated.
The Kellers, who always denied the charges, want the courts to throw out their convictions. But a year after they were freed from prison, Travis County prosecutors remain unwilling to proclaim them innocent, the Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/129h789) reported Sunday.
Prosecutors say to overcome a jury finding of guilt, the courts require new evidence that unquestionably establishes innocence — something like an ironclad alibi or DNA proof.
"Our responsibility is to make sure the law is properly applied, and, under the applicable standards, we are not satisfied that they have established actual innocence under the law," Travis County Assistant District Attorney Scott Taliaferro said.
That standard seems unfair to Fran Keller, who said there is no way to conclusively prove a negative.
"It's so hard to prove you're innocent when there was never a crime," she said.
The Kellers had been sentenced to 48 years in prison.
During their trial, the only physical evidence came from an emergency room doctor who testified that internal lacerations on one child were evidence of abuse. But in court documents filed in 2013, Dr. Michael Mouw says what he thought were lacerations were actually normal physiology.
That prompted prosecutors in Travis County, which includes Austin, to agree that the case's evidence was faulty and release the two on bond.
The Kellers' claim of innocence will be decided by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, where a core of conservative judges typically takes a skeptical view toward overturning jury verdicts. The court will be guided by the recommendations of Senior District Judge Wilford Flowers, who presided over the Kellers' 1992 trial and their recent appeals — and who has already twice ruled that they had failed to prove their innocence.
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com