Kellers Await Vindication

Judge says Kellers can't prove they're innocent of a crime few believe happened

Fran Keller (center) with her children, Donna and Steve
Fran Keller (center) with her children, Donna and Steve (Photos by Jana Birchum)

You're innocent until proven guilty.

Unless there was never a crime at all. Even if a medical examiner's incorrect but essential testimony has been recanted, and you've been released from prison on bond 21 years before your 42-year sentence has expired. Now you must prove your innocence – even if there's no way to prove you didn't commit a crime that never happened.

Dan Keller in 2008
Dan Keller in 2008

That's the current state of affairs for Fran and Dan Keller, the now-divorced couple sentenced in 1992 to 42 years in prison for the alleged sexual abuse of then 3-year-old Christy Chaviers. The two were freed late last year after Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg agreed that then-novice­ emergency room Dr. Michael Mouw's Aug. 1991 examination of Chaviers' genitalia was inaccurate (as Mouw now concedes) – thus making the Kellers the victims of an unfair trial. But the Kellers' names have yet to be cleared in the eyes of Texas law.

Last Monday, Dec. 1, Judge Wilford Flow­ers, who's presided over each stage of the Kellers' 22-year legal ordeal, ruled for the third time that the two must present tangible evidence to indicate that they didn't actually run a satanic child abuse ring out of their home-based day care center near Oak Hill. They must find a way to prove that they didn't take children on one-day, round-trip plane rides to Mexico for abuse by soldiers, and that they didn't cut off the arm of a Zilker Park gorilla that never existed. They must somehow prove that they didn't force children to watch child and animal sacrifices that never happened – and that they never sexually abused Chaviers.

"It's not like Michael Morton [freed in 2011 after 24 years when it was determined someone else had killed his wife], where you have a serial killing and can take DNA to match it to a killer," says the Kellers' pro-bono attorney Keith Hampton. "I don't have that, and I don't have recantation. The children were 3 and 4 years old; they didn't lie. There's no recantation [to provide]." With no evidence to support his case, Hamp­ton has relied on results from polygraph tests and claims that Chaviers' therapist and a satanic abuse "expert" called by prosecutors were incompetent.

On Wednesday, Dec. 10, Flowers delivered Hampton's and the state's responses to his Dec. 1 decision, along with 22 years worth of court documents, to the Court of Criminal Appeals. That court's nine judges will consider the case and potentially schedule a hearing. "I'd imagine there will be arguments and a decision, and I expect writing an opinion on it, if for nothing besides the historical value," he said, referencing its similarities to the famous McMartin Pre-School Trials – another false satanic ritual abuse case that consumed California throughout the Eighties.

Should the Court of Criminal Appeals choose to hear the case and find the Kellers innocent, both would receive a significant amount in compensation. Hampton says state statute requires $80,000 be delivered to each of them for every year they were incarcerated – in theory, a total compensatory sum of $3.36 million.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Fran Keller, Dan Keller, wrongful convictions, Keith Hampton, Wilford Flowers, ritual satanic abuse, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

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