From Texas Public Radio:
With a few strokes of a pen, Judge Christine Del Prado dismissed the case against 74-year-old Melvin Quinney — giving him his good name back.
“Mr. Quinney, I have signed the dismissal,” said Del Prado, “And I thank you sir for your attendance. You are now discharged from this court.”
Applause broke out from onlookers in the same court that 32 years ago had convicted Quinney of indecency with a child and sentenced him to 20 years.
This was the final courtroom step in Quinney’s exoneration — a painful journey that saw him spend eight years in Texas prisons, forced him to register as a sex offender and saw his four children pushed into the foster care system.
Now that same court and his family say that abuse never took place.
It was all based on a lie — stemming from a “moral satanic panic” that swept the country, said Innocence Project of Texas director Mike Ware.
“This is a good day for justice,” said Ware, standing next to Quinney in front of the Bexar County Courthouse.
In the 1980s and 90s, a mass hysteria swept across Texas and the nation around the satanic ritual abuse of children.
According to a 1992 FBI report, hundreds of victims alleged thousands of offenders had killed tens of thousands of people as part of what is now called the “satanic panic.” Even in 1992, when the report was generated, they called the allegations bizarre and unfounded.
But allegations persisted with several people being falsely imprisoned. Notable exonerees include the so-called San Antonio Four and the Kellers. Like other exonerees, Quinney should be entitled to compensation from the state. It isn’t immediately clear what the final number will be but it will stretch into the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.
Quinney is just the latest example of how Texas is still grappling with the aftermath of the false panic.
Quinney’s now deceased ex-wife Debra along with therapists pressured his nine-year-old son John Parker (Quinney) to testify that his father molested him — that he was in a satanic cult and that he had seen children murdered.
In court documents, Parker said initially his sister Sara was the focus of his mothers molestation claims, but it shifted to him. He resisted testifying at first, saying he had no memory of the abuse. But therapists specializing in the now debunked satanic ritual abuse theories used what current law enforcement officials call “outdated and inappropriate” interview techniques.
“Children were being coerced by ill guided professionals, to make these outrageous, demonstrably false accusations that have now been proven false beyond all doubt,” said Ware.
Parker began to believe he was part of a satanic cult that his father was in and had been abused.
“Whenever I had any doubts that something happened, I was told by the therapist that this was because I had multiple personalities, that my dad had programmed me this way,” Parker said the court record of his recantation.
Melvin Quinney served eight years of his 20-year sentence before being paroled and forced to register as a sex offender.
Parker realized after his mother passed in 1999 that something had gone terribly wrong. He recanted his testimony as an adult, and worked to clear his fathers name. Despite spending years fighting to clear his father’s name along with his three siblings, Parker physically cringed — his eyes wet with tears— when an attorney with the Bexar County District Attorney’s office called him a hero at Monday’s press conference.
“I’m still holding on to a lot of guilt over what happened and a little bit of shame that I didn’t realize sooner what had happened to us,” he said.
As a child, Parker had been called a “little hero” for testifying against his father. He says he battles with guilt today — but has forgiven his now deceased mother.
He said she was clearly mentally ill.
“Instead of getting help with the real mental problems she was experiencing, she was persuaded and kept mentally ill with pseudoscience and superstition,” said Parker.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found Quinney innocent in February and remanded the case back to the 227th district court in Bexar County, where he was first convicted in 1991.
Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzaes, standing in front of the county courthouse Monday, credited the exoneration to The Innocence Project of Texas along with his conviction integrity unit.
He said his lawyers swear an oath to do the right thing — something they got to do by recommending dismissal.
“That certainly is the case today, because today we have had the opportunity to right a wrong,” Gonzales said.
Melvin Quinney said ‘yes’ he was wrongfully accused and convicted but the impact on his family goes well beyond him. His ex-wife was unable to care for the children not long after he was imprisoned and they were pushed into the state’s foster care system. For years, the children thought they would be targeted by satanic cult members.
“I was a victim, so what? My children, they were the real victims,’ Quinney said. “My four children were the real victims in this whole fiasco we went through.”
After 30 years, he says he hopes today’s ruling helps the family continue to heal.