When the little girl on the witness stand said, "No, it didn't happen," Frances Keller put her head in her hands and began to sob. It was the second day of what would be a six-day trial of Keller and her husband, Danny, on charges that they'd sexually assaulted a young girl, Christina Chaviers, in the summer ofwhen the 3-year-old was an infrequent drop-in at their home-based Oak Hill day care. Among the multiple counts were allegations that Danny had forcibly penetrated Christina with a pen and his penis and that Fran had performed oral sex on Christina and forced the girl to do the same.
The charges were based on statements Christina had made, first to her mother, Suzanne Guinne, and then to her therapist, social worker Donna David-Campbell. There was no definitive physical evidence. On the witness stand, the little girl sat on her older sister's lap, chewing on a lollipop.
Shipway tried a different approach.
Did Christina tell anyone else that Danny had hurt her? She did not reply. Shipway asked if Christina would like to "whisper to me" her answer. Fran held her head in her hands; all the emotion of the last year and a half welled up. Finally, she thought, everyone in the courtroom had heard the truth: Nothing had happened.
Fran felt a measure of relief — certainly, this whole ordeal would soon be over. But that's not what happened. Instead, Fran and Danny Keller were each convicted of sexually assaulting Christina Chaviers, and each was sentenced to 48 years in prison. For the Kellers, now 58 and 68, respectively, it was effectively a life sentence.
They've since come up for parole, but neither will acknowledge the remorse that is a requirement of release — after 17 years, the Kellers still fiercely maintain their innocence. And in fact, the Chronicle 's reinvestigation of the Fran's Day Care case has revealed serious problems with the state's case against the Kellers — including questions about the quality and reliability of the state's medical evidence and forensic interviews. Moreover, the sensational nature of the charges themselves, in a period of hysterical national rumors about supposed "satanic ritual abuse" at day care centers, made it virtually impossible for the Kellers to receive a fair or even rational trial.
Finally, our investigation has uncovered potentially exculpatory evidence that the Kellers' defense attorneys say they were not aware of at the time of the trial.
In light of the problems with the original prosecution and this additional evidence, there remain substantive doubts about the Kellers' guilt. Indeed, it's an open question not only whether the Kellers were rightly convicted — but more fundamentally, whether any crime ever happened at Fran's Day Care at all. Frances was devastated by the charges, which she and Danny vociferously denied. She loved children. She had three of her own, already grown, and she missed having little ones around the house.
In lateFrances decided to quit her job in the deli at the Oak Hill H-E-B and to open a day care in her home just off Highway Well, I've watched children I was in heaven, you know, staying home and taking care of .
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I just loved it. Yet following a half-day at the Kellers on Aug. At the time, Guinne and her husband, Rick Chaviers, were engaged in a bitter divorce. Mother and daughter were en route to a scheduled appointment with therapist Donna David-Campbell, who had been seeing Christina for several months to work on the toddler's ongoing behavior problems. By the time Christina's half-hour appointment was finished, however, the allegation that Danny had spanked her had grown in severity and scope.
According to a Travis County Sheriff's Office report, Guinne and David-Campbell told investigators that during the therapy session, Christina told them that Danny had penetrated her vagina with an ink pen on numerous occasions and that he "'pee[s] and poops' on her and it comes out of his bottom. In the following weeks, Christina's allegations against the Kellers became more disturbing and confounding. By the end of the year, Christina had said not only that Fran and Danny had molested her but that two other people — a dark-haired woman and a man that looked like country singer Kenny Rogers — had also come to the day care to partake in the abuse.
It's likely fran and danny keller were innocent of charges of child sexual abuse, but they're still in prison after 17 years
She said that she'd been poked with needles by the Kellers and that Danny had dug a hole in the back yard and put her in it. She related tales of the Kellers torturing and killing animals and said that the Kellers had murdered, decapitated, and disemboweled a baby.
According to case records, all these horrific actions had occurred during the 13 times Christina had attended the day care, without any parent or other adult noticing anything amiss. By the end oftwo other children began to tell similar stories. Vijay Staelin, who was also seeing therapist David-Campbell, told his mom that Danny had made him eat poop and drink pee.
And Brendan Nash — his mother told the television show American Justice — said the Kellers had held a gun to his head and forced him to assault his infant sister while they videotaped the abuse. There was little physical evidence to support the children's stories. Christina was examined at Brackenridge Hospital the evening she made her first outcry, and the emergency room doctor said that he saw s that her outer genitalia were red and that there was some deformity to her hymen. He concluded that the injuries could be consistent with sexual abuse but could not rule out the possibility that there was another cause — a tentative conclusion that would turn out to be the only physical evidence ever provided in the case.
Christina and Brendan were subjected to forensic interviews by the Sheriff's Office, but none was certainly confirming nor corroborated by any physical evidence. Most damning at trial was a statement given to police nearly a year after Christina's first outcry by an acquaintance of the Kellers, Doug Perry, who told investigators that he and his wife, former Travis Co. Precinct 3 Deputy Constable Janise White and her Precinct 3 partner, Raul Quintero, had taken part in abusing the children while at the Kellers' house one Friday afternoon.
Perry recanted that confession shortly thereafter, however, claiming he'd been coerced into making it by Texas Rangers.
No videotape or photographic evidence of abuse was ever found, and police never found any corpses — animal or human — to back up any of the children's wilder tales. Nonetheless, a grand jury indicted the Kellers in late for sexually assaulting Christina — and, subsequently, indicted Perry, White, and Quintero on similar charges.
Fran and Danny Keller were shocked.
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Fran and Danny Keller had been married about a year when they moved into a ranch-style brick home on Thomas Springs Road, northwest of the Y in Oak Hill. They'd been living in an apartment, but Fran, a country girl at heart, was eager to find something out of town. The couple leased the home on July 1,and immediately began work on the property. Danny, a manager of the county's Precinct 3 road crew, put in a stone walkway to the front door and began clearing cedar in the back yard, where the couple pastured their horse, Fancy Dancer; Fran planted a garden. The couple had been in the home just more than a year when Fran decided she was tired of working at the H-E-B.
When her former boss gave birth to a son, Fran began to care for him while his mother was at work. It wasn't long before Fran was taking in other kids, referred to her by friends and neighbors. I taught the kids how to garden," she says, "and we had a big back yard, and we bought a pool for the. And we had sand all over the yard.
We built one of those big wooden gyms. We had a horse, and [the kids] would take rides on the horse. ByDanny had retired; he tended the property and helped with the kids, taking them out for rides on the horse or pulling them in a large wagon behind his riding lawn mower. Teresa Chambers, a former paramedic, says the environment the Kellers had created was the main reason she put her two children in day care with Fran.
There was one particular room that was the kids' room.
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There was fishing net on the wall holding up stuffed animals," Chambers recalled. She was also impressed by the animals in addition to the horse, the Kellers had six doves, a pair of parakeets, a dog, and a cat and the garden. By all s, before she ever spent a moment at the Kellers, Christina was a troubled. In the summer ofher parents, Rick and Suzanne, were embroiled in a bitter divorce, marked in part, recalls Rick, by accusations that he had been abusive toward his wife and toddler daughter.
But Suzanne "got to court first and said I was abusive and all that stuff. Guinne, an interior deer, told the court that the reason she sought day care for Christina was so she'd have a place to take her daughter while she ran errands related to the divorce — to court, to see her lawyer, to attend counseling. Christina attended Fran's Day Care no more than 13 times; prior to that year, she had rarely been away from her mother's side.
At the same time she began dropping Christina off for day care at the Kellers, in MayGuinne began taking her daughter to see David-Campbell. According to the therapist's testimony at the Kellers' trial, Christina's behaviors were among the worst she'd ever seen. Christina had been "acting out" for months, she said, long before the child began going to Fran's Day Care.
She was violent toward her mother and often bit her; she once tried to jump out of a moving car; she was behaving like a dog, eating and drinking from a bowl and defecating in the back yard; she once tried to stab the family's dog with a fork. She was inserting toys into her vagina — mostly marbles and crayons — and she was already using rough language, including the phrase "butt fuck. David-Campbell told the court that, by the end ofshe'd seen Christina roughly times and that Christina's behaviors would wax and wane. But as the summer of wore on, she said, Christina's behaviors were definitely getting worse.
In mid-August, Guinne and David-Campbell said later, they believed they had found the answer to why Christina was so ill-behaved. It didn't explain why Christina had been acting out for so long and in so many different ways, but neither her mother nor her therapist acknowledged that in court. Instead, they moved quickly to a single explanation: Christina had been abused at Fran's Day Care. On Aug. According to Guinne, she was driving on MoPac toward the therapist's office when Christina volunteered that she didn't like Danny.
At the office, David-Campbell brought out a pair of anatomically correct dolls for Christina — so she could show the therapist and mother what it was that Danny had done. After Danny defecated on her head, she said, Fran washed it out "with blue shampoo. Christina then started pointing to the hole on the female doll that represents a vagina and "started showing us" where the pen had gone. That evening at home, Guinne said she heard Christina crying in the bathroom. She told her mother that it "hurts inside" when she urinated. Christina kept pointing to her vagina and contorting her labia to make her genitalia look like "a face.
Then Christina said that there was also "glue" stuck inside her — she said, "Danny took his pee-pee and put it in her hole and got glue all stuck inside and all over her, and it was yucky. In five years of medical practice, Mouw had evaluated approximately 30 children who were suspected victims of sexual abuse, but he did not have specialized training in that area, he told jurors. Guinne told Mouw that in the weeks her daughter had been "crawling behind furniture and trying to insert toys into her vagina," Mouw recalled in court. Guinne also told him that Christina had ly been abused.
Mouw tested for semen but found nothing. He did, however, find that Christina's genitalia were red and noted "what appeared to be lacerations to the hymen at three and nine o'clock," he testified.