- Associated Press - Sunday, December 12, 2010

CITRONELLE, Ala. (AP) — The woman accused of torturing two young children who later were killed and dumped in rural Mississippi and Alabama was expected to return to Alabama by extradition on Sunday to face charges.

Heather Leavell-Keaton was to return to Mobile from Kentucky a day after search teams uncovered human remains 30 miles away that police believe belong to one of the children.

Search teams found the skeletal remains near a county road in Citronelle, about 30 miles north of Mobile, said Mobile Police Maj. Kara Rose. They had  been searching the site for only a half-hour.

Maj. Rose said investigators believe the remains belong to Natalie DeBlase, who would have turned 5 in late November. Skeletal remains found Wednesday in the woods of rural Mississippi are believed to belong to her 3-year-old brother, Chase.

John DeBlase, 27, is charged with two counts of felony murder and two counts of corpse abuse.

Mr. DeBlase’s parents have said the last time they saw the children was in February, when they found Mr. DeBlase living at a mobile-home park in Citronelle with his common-law wife, Ms. Leavell-Keaton.

Police have said Ms. Leavell-Keaton also is responsible in the killings. She has been charged with child abuse but not murder.

Mr. DeBlase’s court-appointed attorney, Jim Sears, has said Mr. DeBlase maintains that he is innocent and that Ms. Leavell-Keaton killed the children. She has blamed Mr. DeBlase for the children’s deaths.

Attorneys for Mr. DeBlase have said he will plead not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Mr. Sears said Friday that comments made by friends that called into question Mr. DeBlase’s mental health are “certainly not without reason.”

Mobile County Assistant District Attorney Jo Beth Murphree said Friday that authorities soon would upgrade Ms. Leavell-Keaton’s charges from child abuse to the more serious counts of aggravated child abuse. Ms. Leavell-Keaton also was to be charged with two counts of corpse abuse.

Mr. DeBlase has told police he dumped his daughter in the woods north of Mobile in March. He said he discarded the boy’s body, dressed only in a diaper and stuffed into a plastic garbage bag, in Mississippi in June on or around Father’s Day. Police say the children were killed separately, then immediately disposed of.

An investigation into their disappearance didn’t start until late last month after Ms. Leavell-Keaton sought a protective order against Mr. DeBlase in Kentucky, Mobile police Officer Chris Levy said previously. Ms. Leavell-Keaton said in the Nov. 18 filing that Mr. 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. That child is in state custody in Kentucky.

“I am afraid that he is going to do something to harm our daughter because of what he has done to the other children,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, arrest warrants in the case accuse Ms. Leavell-Keaton of abusing the boy and girl.

The documents accuse Ms. 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 Ms. 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.

The documents say the abuse happened sometime after March 1.



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