January 7, 2011 3:00:00 PM
MOBILE, Ala. - A woman who is charged with abusing two young children called them "demon spawns from hell" and allegedly beat them while they were bound with duct tape and let them die, according to testimony at a court hearing Friday.
But investigators also said the woman told police that the children''s father, 27-year-old John DeBlase, used rat poison to kill his children and dumped their bodies in woods of south Mississippi and Alabama. He is charged with two counts of felony murder and two counts of corpse abuse in the deaths of 3-year-old Chase and 4-year-old Natalie DeBlase.
The conflicting testimony was given at a preliminary hearing for DeBlase and his common-law wife, Heather Leavell-Keaton, 22. The judge ruled there was probable cause to send the case to a grand jury.
Leavell-Keaton, who is legally blind and not the biological mother, is charged with aggravated child abuse and abuse of a corpse.
After Thursday''s hearing, a prosecutor said charges against Leavell-Keaton could be upgraded to murder.
"Investigations go where they go and it is not uncommon for charges to be upgraded," said Joe Beth Murphree, assistant district attorney for Mobile County.
Testimony related in court by Angela Prine of the Mobile Police Department included DeBlase''s statement to detectives that Natalie died last March 4 after Leavell-Keaton duct-taped her hands, feet and mouth and put her in a suitcase. DeBlase said he went to school and returned about 10 p.m., finding Natalie still in the suitcase and dead.
Leavell-Keaton sat in a chair at the side of the court and appear to mutter to herself as Prine read DeBlase''s statements. Later, Leavell-Keaton mouthed, "That''s a lie."
Attorneys for DeBlase have said he maintains his innocence.
According to DeBlase''s statement to detectives, the girl''s body was buried after he stopped at a store to buy a shovel and drove to a rural site, with Leavell-Keaton and his son in the car.
He said Chase died last June 20 after Leavell-Keaton got angry during potty training and the child urinated on himself. She duct-taped his hands and legs, bound a broomstick behind his back, and later stuffed a sock in his mouth, according to the father''s statement to detectives. DeBlase went to bed, saying he was still stressed out about Natalie''s death and wanted Chase freed by the time he got up, but the boy was dead in the morning.
According to the testimony, he put the body in a garbage bag and drove to Mississippi to bury it.
The police department''s Prine testified that DeBlase first told detectives his children were kidnapped by masked men at a park on Fathers'' Day. He later said the children were tortured and killed by Levell-Keaton.
But Prine testified that Leavell-Keaton told detectives DeBlase killed the children. She described to detectives how each had vomited a black substance before dying.
Prine also read interviews from various witnesses who described abuse by Leavell-Keaton of the children. Prine said Dana Mullins told detectives the family lived nearby for three weeks in December 2008 and that Leavell-Keaton beat Natalie, forced her to sit for lengthy periods in a chair and called her "evil brat" and "whore."
Creighton Hobbs, an acquaintance of DeBlase''s, said he saw Leavell-Keaton shake the children, call them "demon spawns from hell" and put them in a corner.
The bodies were found in December when Leavell-Keaton, seeking a protective order after moving to Kentucky, disclosed they were dead. Authorities said DeBlase took them to the sites.
The couple had separate arraignments Thursday. DeBlase, his hands in handcuffs, looked down and showed no reaction as details of the children''s torture and deaths were read.
According to testimony, the biological mother, Corrine Heathcock, had not seen the children in more than a year when they died.
Darryl Bender, an attorney for Leavell-Keaton, said his client, lived in fear for her life and in fear for the life of her now 7-month-old infant. He said toxicology tests might prove his client to be correct in her statements that the children were poisoned.
And Bender questioned why none of the people who gave statements to detectives about the children''s abuse called authorities to report the couple.
lorenza102053 commented at 1/7/2011 6:42:00 PM:
Some people have no business having children ...These two had better be glad that I am not in charge of thier punishment. I would opt for doing exactly the same to them as was done to the kids. I think a little "eye for an eye" would go over well in some of these child murder and abuse cases we hear about now. Why should they get off with being so humanely treated after being so unspeakably cruel to little kids that can't defend themselves? If an "accident" greets them in prison at the hands of angry inmates, you won't see me shedding any tears for them.
desertflower7 commented at 1/7/2011 7:08:00 PM:
I find this to be an extremely sad story. Two innocent children gone and why? How can others see and know that these children were being abused and said nothing; being abused when I was young I have compassion and empathy for these children. Those that said nothing to authorities to me are just as guilty to the children's death. I have fought against abuse for many years; and I have reached out to children, in hopes to stop what took place in my life. I have tried to reach out in hopes that those who get abused can see that they can rise above what was done and the nightmares that come along. One can lead a good life regardless of the obstacles that come their way. I am grieved at the lose of these children and the many that have been abused and their fate they come to know.
commonsenseincolumbus commented at 1/11/2011 3:12:00 PM:
Yet another example of a horrendous act being committed in the name of God. This woman is obviously delusional and disturbed. She need to be put away for the protection of herself and the public.
3. The biggest organization no one has heard of COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. Pioneers in their field: Local women discuss their challenge-laden paths to success COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY