MOBILE, Ala. – A woman pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that she abused and tortured her common-law husband's two young children, who authorities say were killed and dumped in the woods of rural Alabama and Mississippi.
District Judge Charles McKnight also ordered Heather Leavell-Keaton, 22, held on $206,000 bond. She faces two charges of aggravated child abuse and two counts of corpse abuse.
Wearing a brown jumpsuit, Leavell-Keaton softly told the judge she didn't understand the proceeding. Her attorney was not present. McKnight then explained to Leavell-Keaton what was going on.
A preliminary hearing was set for Jan. 4 for Leavell-Keaton and John DeBlase, 27, the father of the two children. He is being held on murder charges, with bond set earlier at $500,000.
Leavell-Keaton, who was brought back to Mobile from Kentucky over the weekend, is not charged with murder.
Remains believed to be those of DeBlase's 3-year-old son Chase and Natalie have been found. Natalie would have turned 5 in November.
Authorities say DeBlase directed investigators to the wooded areas where the bodies were dumped.
DeBlase has accused Leavell-Keaton of killing the children, while she told authorities he killed them. Mobile police have said they share responsibility for the children's deaths.
The investigation began last month after Leavell-Keaton sought a protective order against DeBlase in Kentucky. She said in a Nov. 18 filing that DeBlase may have killed his children. The couple also had a child together this summer, and that child is in state custody in Kentucky.
According to arrest warrants, Leavell-Keaton is accused 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.