Court dismisses 1992 sexual assault conviction of Austin couple
An Austin couple sent to prison in 1992 has had their sexual assault conviction thrown out by the state's highest criminal court, but judges denied the couple's innocence even though the only piece of evidence produced against them was the false testimony of a doctor.
"I kept saying I'm innocent. We're innocent. We didn't do anything, but the jury does what they have to do," Fran Keller said when she was released from prison in December 2013.
What the jury did was convict Dan and Fran Keller of sexual abuse and sent them to jail for 21 years. The testimony of children who attended their home daycare convinced jurors that the couple was performing satanic rituals and sexually abusing kids.
"This is the benchmark case of how to get it wrong. How to produce false stories," said Keith Hampton who represents the Kellers.
The children accused the couple of dismembering dead bodies and animals, putting children in a pool with sharks that ate babies, serving blood-laced Kool Aid, and flying kids to Mexico to be sexually abused.
"Grown people, prosecutors, well educated people bought this and put them in prison for 21 years," said Hampton.
Hampton said the only explanation for the conviction is the national hysteria or "satanic panic" of the early 90s.
"They didn't get a fair trial, but we also didn't get it right. There was never a crime in this case," said Hampton.
After a doctor admitted he made a mistake in his examination of one of the children, the couple walked out of prison in 2013.
"We got them released, but they didn't deserve to be there anyway. We haven't compensated them," said Hampton.
Hampton sent the case to the court of criminal appeals of Texas to have the convictions thrown out and the Kellers found innocent. The nine judges who heard the case agreed to dismiss the conviction, but did not rule the Kellers are innocent.
"They're perplexed, they're stunned, they don't understand why," said Hampton.
Only one judge wrote a concurring opinion. Judge Cheryl Johnson wrote that she would have granted the Kellers' innocence because "this was a witch hunt from the beginning."
"We can't give them back their 21 years, but we could have acknowledged their innocence and apologized to them and compensated them under the Wrongful Conviction Statute and now we can't do any of those things," said Hampton.
Without a ruling of innocence the Kellers won't receive the $80,000 per year they served in prison under the Wrongful Conviction Statute. Hampton said he will ask the judges to reconsider the evidence and could take the case to federal court, but even 23 years after a guilty verdict, he won't stop fighting for the justice he said the Kellers deserve.
Hamilton is also representing convicted sex offender and Leander football player Greg Kelley. Kelley was sentenced to 25 years in prison after two five-year-old children testified he sexually abused them at a daycare facility. Hamilton said he is working to get Kelley a new trial.