Accusations flew of sacrifice, drinking blood, sexual abuse and the invocation of demonic forces but it was wasn’t Salem, and the year wasn’t 1692. The conviction of Daniel and Frances Keller took place in Travis County, Texas, three centuries later amid what became, quite literally, a modern-day witch hunt.
It began when the Kellers were accused of sexually abusing a troubled 3-year-old girl, Christy Chaviers, who was a visitor at Fran’s Day Care, which the couple was running out of their Austin home. The couple was convicted in 1992 and spent 21 years in prison until they were freed in 2013 — but not until after an investigative journalist and attorney looked into their case and discovered it was riddled with outlandish accusations, inconsistent testimony and undisclosed exculpatory evidence.
On 20 June 2017, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore filed a motion to dismiss the case against the Kellers. In a statement released to reporters, Moore said:
In making this very difficult decision, I personally read the trial and post-conviction transcripts and viewed the evidence introduced at trial. I take seriously my responsibility under Texas law to see that justice is done. Given the current state of law on actual innocence and the evidence remaining in this case, I believe this to be a just outcome.
The Kellers may well have spent the rest of their lives in prison had it not been for Jordan Smith, an investigative reporter for the Austin Chronicle who in 2009 wrote an article in which she re-examined the evidence against the couple. Smith, an award-winning journalist who now works for The Intercept, told us she stumbled across the case when someone asked in an online forum whether a candidate for district attorney would reverse the injustice done to the Kellers: