A Texas couple accused of committing ritualistic crimes against children at a daycare center in 1992 was granted $3.4 million for being falsely convicted.
Fran and Dan Keller were charged with sexually abusing children in their Austin daycare after a 3-year-old child accused them of abuse in 1991. The Washington Post claims the Kellers sometimes cared for children with emotional issues and difficult home lives, and that the child who had accused them had "known behavioral problems."
Soon after, several youngsters made claims of being subjected to demented and violent acts. The Austin American-Statesman said that the case escalated quickly, at one point amassing a list of 26 possible ritual abusers, many of whom were respected in their communities.
Some of the Kellers' alleged crimes were making children drink Kool-Aid spiked with blood, dismembering babies, flying children to Mexico to get raped, and burying children alive, The Washington Post reports.
The only evidence against the Kellers was the testimony of one doctor, who claimed he found physical evidence linking them to the crimes. They were sentenced to 48 years in prison.
Lawyer Keith Hampton began legal proceedings for the Kellers after reading a 2009 article in which several of the children's claims were found to have counter-evidence, The Washington Post reports.
He claimed the Kellers were victims of an inept investigation, which ignored the children who made no claims of abuse, therapists who encouraged children to have false memories and, perhaps most uniquely, "satanic panic."
"Day care panic or the satanic panic began to occur and it reached a fever pitch around the time the Kellers were prosecuted," Hampton argued. "And like most hysterias, it thereafter died away."
According to The Washington Post, "satanic panic" gained traction in the 1980s when fundamentalist Christians decried the game "Dungeons & Dragons" for being satanic. The panic continued as police and psychiatrists gave credence to thousands of individuals who suddenly made claims of ritualistic sexual abuse.
The Kellers were found innocent in 2013 -- 21 years after they'd been sentenced to prison -- when the doctor's physical evidence against the Kellers was determined to be false. Furthermore, one of the alleged victims gave a testimony that year in which she claimed she had no memory of being abused, The Associated Press reports.
Both the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the doctor admitted that the evidence was no longer valid. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the Kellers were released from prison on signature bonds.
The Kellers, now seniors, ramped up efforts to clear their names. But some lodged counter-efforts against the Kellers, claiming that there was no DNA evidence or otherwise solid proof that they did not commit the crimes, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
In 2015, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided to overturn the Kellers' convictions but stopped short of declaring them innocent, making it difficult for them to secure jobs, housing and health care.
Things changed in June 2017 when Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore filed documents declaring the Kellers innocent and absolving them of all their convictions. Moore later said that there was not enough evidence to hold the Kellers responsible.
The couple will get two checks from a state-funded program for wrongfully convicted individuals, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The checks will amount to $3.44 million.
"They’re happy, and I’m happy for them," said Hampton, who worked pro-bono for the Kellers.
"It means we will actually be free," said Fran, now 67.
The couple said they will use the money to buy a house, car and hearing aids for Dan, who is now 75 years of age. According to the Austin American-Statesman, some of the adults who reported the claims as children oppose the Kellers' release.
Sources: Austin American-Statesman, AP via Business Insider, The Washington Post / Featured Image: Brian Turner/Flickr / Embedded Images: Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via The Washington Post, Larry D. Moore/Wikimedia Commons