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Melvin Quinney, Jr.

Other Child Sex Abuse Hysteria Exonerations
On November 24, 1989, the day after Thanksgiving, Deborah Quinney left her husband, Melvin Quinney Jr., removing herself and the couple’s four children from their home in San Antonio, Texas.

The Quinneys had a turbulent marriage. They had divorced in 1987 and then remarried on Christmas Eve 1988, shortly after Deborah had given birth to their third child, Tamara. Their fourth, Matthew, was born in October 1989. By then, their oldest child, John, was 8 years old, and daughter Sara was 5 years old.

On November 28, 1989, a complaint was filed with Child Protective Services (CPS), alleging that Sara had been sexually molested by either a parent or another adult. Sara denied any abuse and said a child had put rocks in her underwear.

During the course of that initial investigation, case workers also heard allegations that John had been sexually abused by his father. A pediatrician examined the boy on January 12, 1990. A case worker with Child Protective Services interviewed him on January 23, 1990, and a detective with the San Antonio Police Department interviewed him a month later. Each would later testify that John said his father molested him.

Police arrested Quinney, who was then 42 years old, on May 3, 1990, and charged him with indecency with a child from 1988 through May 5, 1989.

Quinney’s arrest came during a period known as the “Satanic Panic,” when many people were falsely charged with crimes involving the ritualistic sexual abuse of children.

Quinney’s trial in Bexar County Criminal District Court began on July 16, 1991. John testified about the alleged abuse. He said that his father touched his penis on Christmas Eve 1988, when he and Sara slept in their parents’ bed after the wedding. He also testified that his father molested him orally. The prosecutor asked John whether his father kissed him on the chest. John said no. The prosecutor asked, “You don’t remember that. Do you remember when we were talking about this earlier?”

Quinney’s attorney, Michael Robbins, objected. He said the prosecutor was asking leading questions. The prosecutor said he was allowed some latitude because of John’s age. Judge Mike Machado overruled the objection, and John testified that he did remember this occurring.

John also testified that his father threatened to hurt him with a knife or “burn him” if he told anybody about the abuse.

John testified that a friend of his father’s, L.H., used to come over to the house and photograph and film John, Sarah, and their mother touching each other without their clothes on. (No charges were filed against L.H. He did not testify, and no evidence was introduced to support John’s testimony.)

John also testified about his father taking him to the doctor for bowel problems during the time the abuse was alleged to have occurred.

Esther Diaz, a case worker with Child Protective Services, testified about her interview with John in January 1990.

“He was nervous. At some points, he was getting up out of the chair and walking over to the aquarium that was in the room, and I would have to go get him back and redirect his attention to the interview.”

The prosecutor asked if there were indicators of abuse beyond John’s statements.

Diaz answered, “I think that the thing that impressed me the most was just his general fear. That really lent credibility to what he was telling me about what had happened.”

During his cross-examination, Robbins attempted to question Diaz about the reports of abuse regarding Sara Quinney. The prosecutor objected that it was irrelevant to the case at hand, and Judge Machado sustained the objection.

Dr. Juan Parra, the pediatrician who examined John, testified that the child described Melvin Quinney molesting him on several occasions. Parra said John had an emotional “bluntness” that could be taken into consideration when assessing a patient for indications of sexual abuse. He testified that markers of child abuse included aggressive behavior, depressed moods, sleep disturbances, lack of appetite, avoidance of certain areas, and fear.

On cross-examination, Parra testified that these symptoms could be consistent with other issues besides child abuse.

Joerry Smittick of the San Antonio Police Department testified that he interviewed John in February 1990. At the time, Smittick had been working sex crimes for less than five months and would leave the unit the next month. Smittick said John was initially very nervous, but that he opened up after about 15-20 minutes and described the alleged abuse consistent with his statements to Parra and Diaz. “I had to get the information out of him by … trying to befriend him,” Smittick testified. The interview was not recorded, and Smittick testified that he made a report, which John signed.

During cross-examination, Smittick testified that Melvin Quinney had contacted him when the first allegations of abuse surfaced and talked with the detective on several occasions.

David Brock, a psychotherapist with the Minirth-Meier Clinic in Austin, Texas, testified that he treated John from May 1990 through June 1991. Sarah was being treated at the same clinic. “John’s story was consistent,” he testified. “He never wavered in terms of what happened to him and who did it to him, but he did so with flat affect, without fear being demonstrated outwardly.”

Brock said this was “part of the internalizing the abuse, and seeing himself as part of it.”

Cheryl Smith, a case worker with the Texas Department of Human Services, testified that she became involved with the Quinney family in March 1990.

At the time, the state of Texas had custody of the four children. Sarah was in a psychiatric facility, and John was in a youth shelter. She said the children were removed from the home because of the allegations against Melvin Quinney and because of Deborah Quinney’s failure to protect the children against the alleged abuse.

She testified that John never told her the specifics of the alleged abuse and that she also didn’t ask; she said he had already answered so many questions from other adults.

Smith testified that she worked with Deborah Quinney on a plan for reunification with the children. She testified that Melvin Quinney wasn’t a viable option for reuniting the children, because he hadn’t taken responsibility for his actions.

Smith also referenced a psychological test called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory that was administered to Melvin Quinney. The test’s results weren’t introduced into evidence, but Smith said the healthcare workers who reviewed the results said that Quinney met the criteria of a pedophile.

Quinney did not testify. The only defense witness was Truman Parrish, the principal of the school John Quinney attended in 1988-1989. Parrish said that Melvin Quinney was an engaged parent and that he never saw anything indicating that John was afraid of his father.

During closing arguments, Robbins offered no explanation for John’s testimony against his father. “I’m not sure why John says what he said,” Robbins said. “I don’t have any distaste for John. I feel very sorry for him. Obviously, he’s been through some sort of bad experience. I would just contest that the experience was done at the hand of Melvin Quinney.”

Robbins said that Melvin Quinney’s actions – taking his son to the doctor and volunteering to speak with a police officer – were not the actions of a guilty man.

The prosecutor urged jurors to put an end to John’s nightmares. She walked jurors through the testimony of the investigators who interviewed John and the healthcare workers who treated him. She reminded jurors of John’s testimony that his father and friend filmed John with his sister and mother. She said that John’s testimony was spare because of his shame and embarrassment.

“He came up here, and he had a blunt affect, and he answered with the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and ‘I think so,’ and ‘I don’t know,’ because he’s here, because we told him he had to be here, and he’s got to go through it, and we promised him, hopefully, just one more time and that would be all that we would ask him to do.”

The jury convicted Quinney on the indecency charge on July 17, 1991. During sentencing, several character witnesses testified on behalf of Quinney. The prosecutor questioned these witnesses about whether they participated with Quinney in Satanic cult practices. No evidence of these alleged practices was introduced at trial.

Quinney testified and asked the court for mercy. He said he was innocent but respected the jury’s decision. During cross-examination, he acknowledged that psychologists and others had deemed him a pedophile based on his MMPI results, but he said the process was flawed, as these experts had their minds made up before they gave him the test.

On September 5, 1991, Judge Machado sentenced Quinney to 20 years in prison. He unsuccessfully appealed his conviction and was released from prison on July 13, 1999. He was required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

In 2014, John, who now went by the name of John Parker, re-established contact with his father, whom he had not seen since the trial. In 2021, he formally recanted his trial testimony. He would say in an affidavit from 2022, “I know now without any doubt that my dad never did any of the things he was accused of. I am certainly sorry for my involvement in his imprisonment. I never set out to lie about my dad.”

The Innocence Project of Texas had begun representing Quinney in 2020, and they brought his case to the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) in the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, which conducted its own investigation.

On February 25, 2022, Quinney filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition included Parker’s affidavit recanting his testimony, and a report by Dr. Alexandra Doyle, a psychologist who evaluated Parker to assess the truthfulness of the recantation.

She wrote: “John’s recantation of the sexual abuse allegation against his father in combination with his consistent denial of the abuse and the social forces and professional interference in place at the time of his allegation undermines the veracity of the sexual abuse allegations against his father.”

Doyle said the investigators and therapists had tunnel vision, mistaking John’s hesitancy, uncertainty, and denials for proof of a crime rather than the responses of a young boy to the trauma of a chaotic childhood. Similarly, she said the state’s experts erroneously tied John’s physical ailments to sexual abuse, rather than the stress in his family life.

John had testified that the first person he told about the abuse was an FBI agent. Doyle said that was a red flag, as it indicated there was no initial outcry by John. “Rather, this suggests that John’s mother misrepresented information, because she believed it and perhaps to position herself in the custody dispute over the children.”

On June 17, 2022, Judge Andrew Carruthers held an evidentiary hearing. Parker, now 41 years old, testified about how he had come to falsely accuse his father. He said adults had misled him into believing that he was telling the truth.

Parker was asked: “Did there seem to be a consistent, if you will, agenda to convince you that you had been satanically and sexually abused?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “I do know that for at least a while, I remember saying, ‘Nothing happened. Nothing happened.’ And that wasn't a good enough answer for them. And then at some point, I don't know when it was, like I just started buying into it. And then from there it was, you know, even me going home and thinking like, okay, well, here is something fun that happened. I wonder what really happened, you know. And if I told them something it seemed like the crazier the story, the darker the story the better I was doing, the more I was helping.”

He said investigators and therapists lied to him by saying his father had abused numerous children through a satanic cult. “I was told I wasn’t the only one. And I was told that there were multiple kids. I was told that my friends next door that would come over to the house and spend the night with us and on frequent occasions, I was told that they were all … abused by my father.”

Parker said he expected lots of other child victims to testify against his father, but when he got to the courthouse, it was just him.

Parker testified about correspondence he received from his father in 2014, recounting their relationship and recalling the good times they shared prior to the allegations. “The real memories I remembered. Like stuff I already remembered and I knew to be true. Now here is somebody saying – you know, like validating what I knew. And the more I read it, like I said, it just – I knew by the time I got done that I had made a mistake, like I messed up.”

Parker testified that he had reread the transcript from the trial, and it reminded him of how the detectives and therapists kept pushing him to provide the answer they wanted. “I noticed that a lot throughout the testimony that – that if there was something that I seemed unsure about they'd ask me two or three different ways until they got the answer … they wanted,” he said

Parker testified that L.H. and his father never took pictures of the family. L.H. also testified at the evidentiary hearing and said that he and Quinney were simply friends, fellow musicians who both played the piano. L.H. said that he never took any pictures; he didn’t even own a camera.

Sara Parker testified and said her father was innocent and had never abused her or her brother.

Doyle testified that John’s trial testimony showed clear problems. “When an adult is asking a direct question like they did during the trial with John and just asking him to assent yea or nay to this question, we’re not really getting the testimony from John, we’re getting the testimony from the prosecutor,” she said. “He never gives a narrative of an abused situation that occurred that had a beginning, a middle and an end.”

She said prosecutors didn’t grasp the logical flaw in their case, which skirted the wider allegations of satanic abuse. “So, if you don’t believe satanic stuff why are you believing the icing that’s on that? And that’s really – that’s really the problem. John would not have made a sexual abuse allegation but for the satanic stuff. It was intricately woven into this story of why they were leaving. Because why else do you need to run away? You know, in a normal divorce situation you go back and forth, you see both parents, but that wasn’t the case there.”

Dr. William Carter, a psychologist, testified that the events took place during a nationwide surge in cases involving allegations of ritualistic sexual abuse. He said that there was no evidence that John ever made an independent outcry of harm.

Carter was asked who provided the information to the boy. He responded: “Primarily his mother, his church community that promoted the false narrative of the satanic ritual forces that are out there. CPS workers who believed the allegations and ignored the fantastic allegations that they knew about. Law enforcement who again believed that he had been abused and ignored other bits of information. And ultimately, a prosecutor who did the same.”

Quinney did not testify at the hearing.

In a closing statement, Matthew Howard, the director of the CIU, urged the court to grant the petition. He said that John Parker had been deceived by his mother and law enforcement into making false claims. “We believe that the testimony that he’s offered here today has been truthful and credible and it’s only backed up by the number of other witnesses that came behind him and explained exactly how he got here and exactly how those ideas ended up planted in his mind and what broke him to testify the way that he did all those years ago.”

Following the hearing, Quinney’s attorneys and the CIU filed a joint findings of fact, asserting Quinney’s innocence. Judge Carruthers adopted the findings on September 27, 202. On February 15, 2023, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Quinney’s writ petition and vacated his petition.

“Today’s court decision marks an end to this more than 30-year-long injustice,” said Mike Ware, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas. “We are proud to be a part of helping prove his innocence, and wish the best for Melvin and his family as they continue to heal.”

The state dismissed the charge on April 10, 2023.

Quinney was subsequently awarded $1,227,083 in compensation from the state of Texas.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 5/31/2023
Last Updated: 1/12/2024
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1989
Sentence:20 years
Age at the date of reported crime:41
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No