AUSTIN, Texas — Dan and Fran Keller, who spent more than 21 years in prison after they were accused of sexually abusing children during satanic rituals at their South Austin day care, will receive $3.4 million from a state fund for those wrongly convicted of crimes.
Shortly after receiving the news Tuesday, an ecstatic Fran Keller said they will no longer have to live on the brink of destitution, unable to find jobs at their ages and with their convictions, even if overturned by the state’s highest criminal court.
“This means we don’t have to worry about pinching pennies on Social Security, and late bills. That means we will actually be free. We can start living — and no more nightmares,” said Fran Keller, 67.
Their to-do list includes a house, vehicle, health insurance and better hearing aids for Dan Keller, 75.
The Kellers’ lawyer, Keith Hampton, said the couple will collect two checks totaling $3.44 million Wednesday at the state comptroller’s office, which administers the compensation fund.
“They’re happy, and I’m happy for them,” said Hampton, who worked for no charge in getting the Kellers released and declared innocent.
The Kellers received news of the payments as they stood outside the Williamson County Jail while awaiting the release of Greg Kelley on bond Tuesday.
Kelley, serving a 25-year sentence for a child sexual assault charge, has maintained his innocence and also is being represented by Hampton, who phoned the Kellers with news of the state payments while he was inside the jail arranging Kelley’s release.
The state’s wrongful conviction compensation fund pays $80,000 for each year in prison, plus a matching annuity that provides annual payments.
The Kellers’ 1992 trial made national news after three children accused them of participating in satanic rituals that included videotaped orgies, dismembered babies and tortured pets. No evidence of such activities was ever discovered, and the case against them collapsed about two decades later when the only physical evidence of abuse was acknowledged as a mistake by the examining physician.
Freed on signature bonds in 2013, the Kellers launched an effort to clear their names.
Hampton argued that the Kellers were the victims of a "satanic panic" that swept the nation in the early 1990s — fed in Austin by the combined efforts of inept therapists, gullible police and an investigation that spiraled out of control, eventually producing a suspect list of 26 ritual abusers, including an Austin police captain and many of the Kellers' neighbors.
Leading psychologists and criminology professors explained how improper interview techniques and subtle encouragement by therapists produced believable-but-false memories in the children who accused the Kellers of abuse.
Travis County prosecutors, however, objected that the Kellers could not prove their innocence and continued to argue in court that Hampton’s piecemeal attack on the evidence lacked an ironclad alibi, DNA evidence or some other concrete proof that they were not guilty.
But while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned their convictions in 2015, its nine judges stopped short of declaring the couple innocent.
The Kellers' circumstances changed in June, when Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore filed court documents that declared the Kellers "actually innocent" under the law and dropped pending charges against them.
Moore said that when she took office in January, prosecutors had already decided that the case couldn’t be tried again and should be dismissed, leaving her to decide how to resolve the matter.
“By the end of my research and my review, it was clear to me what needed to be done, ” she said at the time. “In the end, it was my decision, and I made it.”
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