Heather Leavell-Keaton, Stepmother of Slain Ala. Children, Gets $206k Bail

Heather Leavell-Keaton (AP Photo/Louisville Metropolitan Dept. of Corrections)
Stepmother of Slain Ala. Children Makes First Court Appearance
Heather Leavell-Keaton (AP Photo/Louisville Metropolitan Dept. of Corrections)

MOBILE, Ala. (CBS/AP) Heather Leavell-Keaton pleaded not guilty during her first court appearance in Alabama after being charged with torturing her common-law husband's two young children.

District Judge Charles McKnight ordered Leavell-Keaton, 22, held on $206,000 bond.

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.

DeBlase is charged with two counts of felony murder and two counts of corpse abuse after he told authorities that he dumped his 5-year-old daughter Natalie in the woods north of Mobile in March and discarded 3-year-old Chase's body, dressed in only a diaper and stuffed into a plastic garbage bag, in Mississippi in June.

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.

Leavell-Keaton, who was brought back to Mobile from Kentucky over the weekend, is not charged with murder.

Police said search teams uncovered human remains Saturday near a county road in Citronelle, about 30 miles north of Mobile, believed to be those of Natalie, who would have turned 5 in late November. A boy's skeletal remains were found in the woods of rural Mississippi last Wednesday and investigators said they're confident those bones belong to her 3-year-old brother, Chase.

Authorities say DeBlase directed investigators to the wooded areas where the bodies were dumped.

Investigators only began searching for the bodies of Chase and Natalie just weeks ago. Their disappearance wasn't reported until Leavell-Keaton sought a protective order against DeBlase in Kentucky, according to Mobile police officer Chris Levy.

She said in the Nov. 18 filing that DeBlase "may have murdered his children," and that she feared for her life because he was abusive. The couple just had a child together this summer.

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

Both DeBlase and Leavell-Keaton have accused each other for the children's deaths.

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