DALLAS – A Texas judge has approved a prosecutor's declaration of innocence for the former owners of a day care who were imprisoned for 21 years for child abuse that involved claims of satanic rituals, officials said Tuesday.
Dan and Fran Keller were convicted in 1992 of sexually assaulting a 3-year-old after children in their care told investigators of dismembered babies, tortured pets and other fantastic tales. The Kellers were freed in 2013 after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found a doctor was mistaken in determining there was physical evidence of assault. The appeals court ruled the doctor's testimony during the Kellers' trial was false. The physician himself also had recanted.
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said Tuesday that state District Judge Cliff Brown earlier approved her motion that absolves the Kellers of any crimes.
The determination of outright innocence makes each eligible for $80,000 in compensation for every year they were wrongfully imprisoned. Moore's finding was first jointly reported by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV.
She told The Associated Press her office had to review the evidence that remained in the case after removing the false testimony.
"We were left with the determination that there was not sufficient credible evidence upon which a reasonable juror could be expected to convict," she said.
Further bolstering the Kellers' case was an interview the victim provided in 2013 in which she acknowledged having no memory of being abused, Moore said.
The couple was sentenced to 48 years in prison after young children made claims of abuse that occurred as part of satanic rituals at the day care the Kellers operated out of their Austin home.
No proof of such rituals was found, but the Kellers' attorney, Keith Hampton, said notorious claims of abuse at other day care centers nationally were part of a hysteria that began in the 1980s about secretive cults targeting children.
"Day care panic or the satanic panic began to occur and it reached a fever pitch around the time the Kellers were prosecuted," Hampton said. "And like most hysterias, it thereafter died away."
He said Dan Keller, in his 70s and in poor health, and Fran Keller, in her late 60s, don't fault those who made allegations decades ago as young children. They instead appreciate the state compensation that will free them from financial struggle.
"They were one step away from homelessness. They were in very dire circumstances," he said. "This couldn't happen at a more perfect time, because with compensation they can get a house, health insurance and good food."
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