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September 18, 2014

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Woman released after 20 years over questions about ritual-abuse case

AUSTIN, Texas — A woman convicted 20 years ago for engaging in ritual child abuse was released on bond Tuesday after the district attorney's office agreed the only physical evidence against her was faulty.

Fran Keller's attorney, Keith Hampton, said he hopes to gain her husband's release next week and eventually prove his clients' innocence. A jury convicted Fran and Dan Keller in 1992 after therapists testified that they helped three children recover memories of satanic rituals and sexual abuse at a preschool Fran Keller operated.

The only physical evidence came from an emergency room doctor who testified that internal lacerations on one child were evidence of abuse. But in court documents filed earlier this year, Dr. Michael Mouw says what he thought were lacerations were actually normal physiology.

The couple were sentenced to 48 years each, but both have always maintained their innocence. Prosecutors put two constables on trial in connection with the Keller case, but the judge dismissed those charges a year after the Kellers were convicted.

"The case was a true witch hunt because the investigators actually believed that this was part of a wide satanic conspiracy," Hampton said. He said the therapist's techniques — which were used to convince the children, parents and investigators that the Kellers committed human sacrifices, flew the children to Mexico and dismembered human bodies in cemeteries — have been debunked.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg issued a statement saying she agreed to release the Kellers on bond after learning of Mouw's testimony.

"I agreed that there is a reasonable likelihood that his false testimony affected the judgment of the jury," she said. "The Court of Criminal Appeals will review both cases. No further action or decisions on the case will be made until that review is finalized."

A judge still has to sign off on Dan Keller's release. Hampton said he did not expect prosecutors to seek a retrial.

The jury convicted the Kellers after prosecutors obtained convictions in similar cases in California, Massachusetts and Florida that gained national attention. Convictions in many of those cases have been overturned or prosecutors have petitioned to vacate the cases.

Hampton said after both of the Kellers are released, he will file court papers to have them exonerated and declared innocent. Fran Keller is 63, and Dan Keller will turn 72 this week.

In the appeal he filed in January, Hampton accused the Austin police of withholding evidence that would have cleared the Kellers and said the judge allowed prosecutors to introduce unscientific psychological evidence at trial by an unqualified witness.

Four San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were freed last week after a judge agreed with their defense attorney and prosecutors that their 1998 convictions for sexual assault should not stand due to faulty expert testimony. In that case, another doctor recanted her testimony that what she thought were internal injuries indicating sexual abuse were actually anatomically normal.

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