MOBILE, Ala. – A prosecutor said Friday he will file capital murder charges against a woman accused in courtroom testimony of beating her common-law husband's two children while they were bound, calling them "demon spawns from hell," and letting them die.
Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. said he decided to seek tougher charges against Heather Leavell-Keaton, 22, after getting new information on the same day as the gruesome testimony. Tyson would not disclose what his office learned, citing the ongoing probe.
The prosecutor said he has not decided whether to seek the death penalty against Leavell-Keaton. Leavell-Keaton, who is already jailed on other charges, will have a hearing next week on the two new counts against her.
"This is an awful, awful set of facts and circumstances," Tyson said.
During a hearing Friday, investigators testified that Leavell-Keaton 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 judge ruled at the preliminary hearing for DeBlase and Leavell-Keaton that there was probable cause to send the case to a grand jury.
Leavell-Keaton, who is legally blind and not the children's biological mother, was earlier charged with aggravated child abuse and abuse of a corpse.
During testimony, Angela Prine of the Mobile Police Department recounted 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 attended classes 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 in Alabama, 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 Leavell-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 for more than a year when they died.
Darryl Bender, an attorney for Leavell-Keaton, said his client feared for her life and that of the now 7-month-old child she had with DeBlase. He said toxicology tests could prove 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.
AP staff writer Ray Henry contributed to this report from Atlanta.
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