Shameful Texas Court of Criminal Appeals wimps out in Keller day care case

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals embarrassed itself recently by refusing to find Dan and Fran Keller innocent of charges that they sexually molested children in their Austin day care center in 1992. Fortunately for the Kellers, however, the court finally did overturn their wrongful convictions after they had served 22 years in prison. It had little choice since there was no credible evidence that any of the children in their care had been sexually abused after Dr. Michael Mouw, the ER doctor who provided the only physical evidence corroborating the accusers, recanted his testimony after attending a medical conference and discovering his medical diagnosis was mistaken.

The Keller case was one of many satanic witch hunt prosecutions during the 80s and 90s that were initiated by the twisted imaginations of sexually fevered therapists, social workers, police and prosecutors who were adept at using leading questions to get young children to agree to false accusations. Jody Seaborn reports,

Without a finding of innocence, Dan and Fran Keller remain victims of a great injustice. It’s stunning to consider how credulously police and prosecutors fell for the incredible. Under leading and suggestive questioning by therapists, investigators and their parents, several children who attended the day care the Kellers ran in Southeast Austin told tales of videotaped orgies, of murder and dismemberment by chainsaw, of cats and dogs tortured and killed, of shark-filled swimming pools and a mutilated gorilla in Zilker Park, of corpses dug up and desecrated. The children also told stories of blood-soaked satanic rituals and of day flights to Mexico, where soldiers molested them before they were flown back to Austin in time to be picked up by their parents from the Kellers’ day care.

This case is very similar to the Wenatchee Sex Ring prosecutions in Washington State in the mid 90s. I have personal knowledge about it because I recruited 40 lawyers in the Seattle area and organized them into 17 teams assisted by law students from Innocence Project Northwest at the University of Washington School of Law. Each team was assigned to an innocent client who had wrongfully been convicted of swapping their children for sex during satanic orgies conducted in a church basement. We were successful in getting all of our clients released from prison.

As in the Keller case, the only evidence that corroborated the fantastical accusations by children in the Wenatchee case was provided by an incompetent ER doctor who did not know what he was talking about.

Another similarity was the stubborn refusal of therapists, social workers, police and prosecutors to admit the defendants were innocent. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals sided with them despite the fantastical nature of the accusations, the use of improper child interrogation techniques  and the absence of any evidence that supported them.

The Kellers spent 22 years in prison for something they did not do and their reputations have been destroyed. The cowardly refusal of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to set the record straight is shameful and disgusting.

They probably sympathized with the state officials who believed the Kellers were guilty and they wanted to protect them from being sued.





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Frederick Leatherman

Frederick Leatherman

I am a former law professor and felony criminal defense lawyer who practiced in state and federal courts for 30 years specializing in death penalty cases, forensics, and drug cases.

I taught criminal law, criminal procedure, law and forensics, and trial advocacy for three years after retiring from my law practice.

I also co-founded Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and recruited 40 lawyers who agreed to work pro bono, assisted by law students, representing 17 innocent men and women wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing their children in the notorious Wenatchee Sex Ring witch-hunt prosecutions during the mid 90s. All 17 were freed from imprisonment.


  1. Shutter
    May 22, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    I remember this period, the mania about sex rings made front page news for a few years. Like a communist under every bed, sex rings were the delusion of the day. Sickening that all those people paid an incalculable price — and no amount of monetary compensation (never offered as I recall) or official apologies would ever make them whole again. They lost all. What price innocence?

    Good on you Fred for organizing the cadre and pushing back the delusionaries.

  2. Screwtape
    May 22, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    Somewhat reminiscent of the notorious Amirault case here in Mass several years ago. Oh, BTW, remember this one if ever you see Martha Coakley on a ballot here again, or anywhere else, however unlikely. . .

  3. bsbafflesbrains
    May 22, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    Shameful Texas is now redundant.

  4. Frederick Leatherman
    May 23, 2015 at 7:52 am

    Thanks for the link.

  5. Frederick Leatherman
    May 23, 2015 at 8:05 am

    Yes, I recall the Fells Acre Preschool Day Care case.

    Reliving the Salem witch hunts of the 1690s 300 years later.

    Somebody once said that we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes if we do not learn from them..

  6. Frederick Leatherman
    May 23, 2015 at 8:14 am

    Thanks. We did what we could, but unfortunately we failed to persuade the state legislature to require videotaping child interviews. We wanted that change in the law so that lawyers would be able to tell when the fantastical stories were fed to the children in the form of suggestive leading questions seeking confirmation in the form of a ‘yes’ answer.

  7. dubinsky
    May 23, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    glad to do it.

    enjoyed your opinion of their ruling and thought that the link was appropriate