It was frankly unbelievable—except that people, most importantly, a Texas jury, didbelieve the Kellers had committed at least some of these acts. In 1992, the Kellers were convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a child and each sentenced to 48 years in prison. The investigation into their supposed crimes took slightly more than a year, the trial only six days.
And now, even the Travis County district attorney agrees that the trial was unfair.
After multiple appeal efforts and 21 years in prison, the Kellers are finally free. Fran Keller, 63, was released from prison on Nov. 26 on a personal bond, just in time for Thanksgiving. Her daughter was waiting for her with a bag full of the first clothes that weren’t prison-issued that Keller had seen in years. Dan, who turned 72 in prison and now walks with a cane, was released on Dec. 5; this time, Fran was there to greet him. (The Kellers divorced while in prison yet remain close, as close as two people locked up in separate prisons for crimes they say they didn’t commit can be.)
The Kellers were released after the doctor who had testified at their trial and provided the only physical evidence that any sexual assault had taken place recanted his testimony. Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg agreed with the findings of appeals filed on the Kellers’ behalf that they were denied their right to a fair trial and that their conviction should be overturned, allowing the Kellers to be released while their appeals move through the courts. In practical terms, this means the Kellers are on a path that may lead to their complete exoneration—and that they were able to celebrate their first Christmas with their families in more than 20 years.
Their release may also finally mark the end to one of the strangest, widest-reaching, and most damaging moral panics in America’s history: the satanic ritual abuse panic of the 1980s and 1990s.
“That was literally a witch hunt,” said Keith Hampton, pro-bono lawyer for the Kellers. “We say ‘witch hunt’ in this figurative way, but that was a modern-day literal witch hunt. They really were after people who they thought were worshipping at the feet of the Dark Lord.”
So what the hell happened?