You may recall the hysteria in the 80’s and early 90’s when an organized network of daycares were alleged to be involved in satanic ritual child abuse of youngsters in their care, the most infamous being the McMartin preschool case.
Virginia McMartin operated her preschool in Manhattan Beach, California employing family members and other staff. An investigation was commenced after one student’s mother reported to the police that her son had been sodomized by a McMartin staff member. From there the case snowballed with allegations of all manner of sexual acts involving 360 children. Eventually Mrs. McMartin and six employees were charged with 321 counts of child sexual abuse involving 48 children.
The McMartin trial lasted seven years at a cost of $15 million with not one conviction entered. Apart from prosecutorial misconduct it was determined that the interviewing of the children by specialized social workers was inherently flawed by suggestive, leading questions and interviewing which induced false memory syndrome.
The number of wrongful convictions for ritual sexual abuse is not documented but this week a couple from Austin Texas were declared innocent after serving 21 years in prison. Dan and Fran Keller operated a daycare from their home until three children accused them of dismembering babies, torturing pets and videotaping sexual orgies with the children. They were eventually convicted of sexual assaulting a three-year-old girl and sentenced to a 48-year prison term.
Their convictions in 1992 were based on the evidence of a young doctor with limited experience with sexual abuse victims who testified there was physical evidence of sexual interference. He later recognized that his inexperience had led to an erroneous conclusion that the child had been sexually abused. Prosecutors requested the release of the Kellers in 2013 and asked the court to reverse their convictions, which was done, however, the appeal court declined to pronounce the couple innocent.
The Kellers are now senior citizens who lost twenty-one of their best years, years that were more difficult because of the nature of the offence that resulted in their imprisonment. With their exoneration and declaration of innocence they will each receive $80,000 for every year they served in prison. Dan and Fran Keller are surprisingly upbeat and say they simply want to get on with their lives, now their nightmare is finally over.
Their pro bono defence lawyer, Keith Hampton, maintains that the Kellers were victims of the “satanic panic” that swept the United States in the early 90’s assisted by inept social workers and gullible police officers. The Keller investigation also identified other abuse suspects, including an Austin police captain and several of their neighbours.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang