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A victim of the "Satanic Panic," Melvin Quinney has finally been exonerated
Quinney couldn't escape the charges even after being freed from prison. His conviction has now finally been vacated.
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After 30 years, a man whose life was ruined by the “Satanic Panic” has finally been exonerated. The Innocence Project of Texas announced that the conviction of Melvin Quinney, which led to him spending over 20 years behind bars, had officially been vacated.
The story of what happened to him is predictably horrifying. It requires a basic understanding of the "Satanic Panic," a conspiracy theory that really took hold among a certain kind of Christian in the 1980s.
Perfectly innocent people were accused of ritualistic child abuse, bad behavior was blamed on the devil, and the modern-day witch hunt ruined countless lives. No evidence ever proved this organized abuse was occurring—certainly not the way accusers insisted it was—but as with so many conspiracy theories, its power had nothing to do with the facts.
In Quinney’s case, according to the Innocence Project of Texas, when he and his wife were going through a divorce in 1990, she accused the 43-year-old Quinney of leading a Satanic cult that murdered people. (No evidence of this was ever discovered.)
His kids were soon taken into custody by Child Protective Services. John, his 10-year-old son, accused Quinney of sexual abuse.
After weeks of coercion from therapists, their mother and other adults, Sarah and John developed “memories” of abuse and occult rituals. John came to believe that their father was the leader of a satanic cult that had committed murder and sexually abused him and his sister Sarah as part of satanic rituals. Melvin was arrested in 1990 and charged with indecency with a child. John testified at trial about his “memories” of his father’s abuse of himself and Sarah. Like so many other Satanic Panic cases, the outlandish stories of murder and occult rituals from the children were not part of the trial. Melvin was convicted in July of 1991 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Quinney wasn’t released from prison until 1999. (The early release was due to good behavior.) Even then, however, he was forced to register as a sex offender, depriving him of the kinds of opportunities that would allow him to get his life back on track.
It wasn’t until 2012 that he finally attempted to get back in touch with his kids (who had grown up believing their father abused them).
In 2020, John and Sarah and other people familiar with the Satanic Panic testified that there was no evidence that Quinney ever did those thing for which he had been accused. John told the court he realized much later that those stories were entirely fictional, fed to him by his mother, her evangelical friends, and other adults working against his father as a way to override the "good memories” he had of him.
Even after his father was convicted, [John] Parker said his mother still him and his siblings convinced that a cult was after them.
“Our whole life revolved around ‘a Satanic cult was after us,’” Parker said. His mom died in 1999.
Another account of that trial offered even more details of how this could have happened:
Parker told the court of many times he met with his mother’s church friends, investigators, CPS workers and therapists, whom he said would ask him questions until he gave them the answers they wanted to hear.
“If I told them stories, the crazier, the darker the story, the more they liked it,” Parker said.
One by one, three psychologists who studied the case said Parker never had a narrative of how the alleged abuse occurred. He just seemed to answer questions posed to him.
“John never really gave a narrative, a story, to anything,” Dallas psychologist Alexandria Doyle told the court. “You have to get children to give you a narrative of the situation, describing the event that actually happened.”
A district court judge sent a writ for exoneration to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last September. And on Wednesday, that writ was granted. It vacated Quinney’s conviction. He no longer has to registered as a sex offender because he never was one and the record no longer says otherwise.
There’s no plan to punish any of the (still living) Christians whose initial lies led to this entire debacle.
This comes a few years after another couple, Dan and Fran Keller, were exonerated after spending more than two decades is prison after being accused and convicted of similar “Satanic Panic” abuse charges. They eventually received $1.68 million each for the 21 years they spent behind bars.
The whole situation with Quinney is a reminder that conspiracies don't just end when the facts are known. The problem with the Satanic Panic has always been that no matter how many bad faith actors use Satan as a metaphor for what they hate, there are many pastors who spend every week convincing their congregations that Satan is real and needs to be eradicated from their lives. They'll never admit they're lying because they genuinely don't believe they are. As long as that belief perpetuates in churches, it's next to impossible to convince people that Satan and the abuse associated with Satan are entirely fictional.
That means, much like sin itself, conservative Christians have invented their own problem out of thin air while presenting themselves as the only solution.
If you’re curious to learn more about Quinney, the podcast American Panic aired a season about his story back in 2020:
(Portions of this article were published earlier)