Dan Keller Freed

After 21 years, reunited with Fran outside county jail

Fran and Dan Keller embrace outside the Travis County Jail
Fran and Dan Keller embrace outside the Travis County Jail
Photo by Debbie Nathan

Fran Keller was the first to spot her former husband, Dan, through a series of thick glass windows inside the Travis County jail, as sheriff's deputies readied him for release this afternoon. "That's him!" she said, waiting inside the jail lobby with her daughter, members of Dan's family, and the couple's lawyer, Keith Hampton.

Minutes later, Dan, now 72, walked out of the jail and into the cold December wind where he embraced Fran for the first time in more than two decades – before the couple was charged, convicted, and each sentenced to 48 years in prison for a crime that few still believe ever happened.

"We're all out," he said, smiling. "It's been a long time."

The Kellers were convicted in November 1992 for the alleged sexual assault of a three-year-old girl who was then an infrequent drop-in at the couple's home-based daycare in Oak Hill. The girl, Christy Chaviers, initially told her mother that Dan had spanked her, but with the prodding of her mother and a therapist, Donna David Campbell, that allegation quickly morphed into an allegation of sexual assault and then again into allegations that the Kellers had subjected Christy and other children to "ritual abuse." The allegations were fantastic: That the Kellers had taken children on plane rides to Mexico where they were abused by adults, that they filmed the children having sex with adults, that they sacrificed babies and animals.

The Kellers were among hundreds of daycare workers across the country accused in the satanic ritual abuse hysteria of the Eighties and Nineties. They are among the very last people charged during that time to be released from prison.

Fran was released last week, just before Thanksgiving, and is only starting to adjust to life outside prison. And she was glad to be there Thursday afternoon to greet Dan as he walked out of the jail and into the arms of her and his siblings.

The couple has been released because Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg agreed with the Kellers' attorney, Hampton, that the pair received an unfair trial tainted by false and material medical evidence. Indeed, the only physical evidence to suggest any crime ever happened came from a then-novice emergency room doctor, Michael Mouw, who examined Christy in August 1991 and found what he thought then were deformities to her hymen likely caused by sexual abuse.

Contacted by the Chronicle for what became our 2009 cover story on the case ("Believing the Children," March 27, 2009), Mouw said that he learned not long after testifying against the Kellers that what he saw on Christy was not damage, but was in fact a normal variant of female genitalia. He said he was not trained to conduct a pediatric sexual assault nor was he qualified to draw any conclusions from what he saw. That information was included in a comprehensive appeal Hampton filed in January, and Mouw testified as such during a hearing in August, after which Lehmberg agreed with Hampton that Mouw's testimony in 1992 was false, material, and likely affected the outcome of the trial, thus violating the couple's right of due process.

Fran and Dan were surrounded by media as they made their way from the front of the jail to a car waiting for Dan at the curb. Reporters peppered the two with questions: Do you blame anyone for your wrongful conviction? "No, no, no, no, no," Dan replied. "I forgive everybody." Did you ever imagine this day would come? "Yes. I asked the Lord [for this] about 20 years ago," he said. And now, "we're free."

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