Woman booked into Ala. jail in child deaths case

A woman was due in court Tuesday to face charges that she tortured her common-law husband's two young children before they were killed and dumped in wooded areas in Alabama and Mississippi.

Heather Leavell-Keaton, 22, was jailed pending the bond hearing on child-abuse charges after being brought back to Mobile from Kentucky, authorities said. Police have said she shares responsibility for the young boy and girl's deaths, and she's expected to face more serious charges.

Remains believed to be the children's have been found in Mississippi and Alabama. The most recent discovery came Saturday, when investigators found bones about 30 miles north of Mobile that are likely those of Natalie DeBlase. She would have turned 5 in November.

A boy's remains were found in the woods of rural Mississippi last week, and investigators said they're confident those bones belong to 3-year-old Chase DeBlase.

The children's father, 27-year-old John DeBlase, is charged with two counts of felony murder and two counts of corpse abuse.

Mobile County Assistant District Attorney Jo Beth Murphree said Friday that authorities would soon upgrade Leavell-Keaton's charges from child abuse to more serious aggravated child abuse counts. Leavell-Keaton, John DeBlase's common-law wife, also was to be charged with two counts of corpse abuse. She has yet to be charged with the children's deaths.

DeBlase's court-appointed attorney, Jim Sears, has said his client maintains his innocence and that Leavell-Keaton killed the children. She has blamed DeBlase for the children's deaths.

Attorneys for DeBlase have said he will plead not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.

DeBlase had told police he dumped his daughter's body in the woods north of Mobile in March. He said he discarded the boy's body in Mississippi in June. Police say the children were killed separately, and their remains were immediately dumped.

An investigation into their disappearances started last month after Leavell-Keaton sought a protective order against DeBlase in Kentucky, where the two had moved. She said in the Nov. 18 filing that DeBlase may have killed his children, and that she feared for her life because he was abusive. The couple had a child together this summer, and that child is in state custody in Kentucky.

Arrest warrants in the case accuse Leavell-Keaton of binding the girl's hands and feet with duct tape, putting a sock in her mouth and stuffing her in a suitcase in a closet for about 14 hours.

The warrants also accuse Leavell-Keaton of duct-taping the boy's hands to the side of his legs, strapping a broom handle to his back and shoving a sock in his mouth, then forcing him to stand in a corner all night while the adults went to bed.