Heather Leavell- Keaton
This became one of those cases that by the time I was done researching I was truly confused as to the timeline, as well as the events. There were mounds of articles and pages to go through and much seemed to contradict itself so I will do my best to sort through the facts. Reality is that no matter how you “cut” this case, it is horrendous. Two children lost their lives due to child abuse and yet the facts of what happened, how it happened and how it was discovered are important.
In November of 2010 an investigation in to the disappearance and/or deaths of four year old Natalie DeBlase and her three year old brother, Chase from Mobile Alabama was opened. The exact reason that it came to light is unclear. It appears that Heather Leavell-Keaton at that time was a resident of Louisville Kentucky. She lived there with her infant daughter. Some reports say that she had been arrested on charges of child abuse. Other reports say that she had gone to the courts to get a restraining order against John DeBlase, her common-law husband from Alabama, and in the midst of this indicated that he may have killed his other children. I cannot confirm either story but she did apparently speak to a police officer in the Louisville police department when things started to spill out.
The search however was on for John DeBlase and he was wanted for questioning. It appears that he was all but on the run. On December 3, 2010 police in Florida were told where to find him. He had been staying with a friend who had no idea that he was wanted. Although John's two oldest children were not with Heather it is unclear if Randal Melville, his friend knew that. He claims that John simply told him that he and Heather had split up and she had left with the child(ren). It was on the 3rd when someone informed Randal that John was wanted and Randal confronted him. He would tell authorities that John threatened him but had left and he had immediately called the police. Within a short time John DeBlase was found and taken into custody.
It appears that John began talking right away and it seems that Heather was talking too but to determine who was telling the truth as to their part would be difficult. John would give authorities maps within a few days to where to locate the bodies of his children. John would be convicted in November of 2014 and sentenced to death. Heather would be convicted in August of 2015 and become the first woman in Mobile County Alabama to be sentenced to death. While she received the death penalty, her verdict was an odd one that I will get into in a bit. But, how did the two children die? And who did what? Whether they were both involved or only one of them, the other had allowed it to happen, not once, but twice, with three months in between without reporting anything. The prosecutor in Heather's case described her as the mastermind of the murders but it sounded as if the judge was uncertain. The judge's comments as she was sentenced to death were fitting whether she participated or was a bystander, she “failed to protect them from needles suffering and death and unexplained malice.”
Since the children were killed at separate times for supposedly separate reasons I am going to try and break down each case and weed through the facts and the rumors as best as I can.
Natalie DeBlase was four years old. Her torture may have began months before her death as there were rumors of both children being burned by cigarettes and hot wax. It was also said that both children had been fed anti-freeze through their food for a few months. And then came March of 2010. The one thing that does seem certain is that on March 4th her body was left in a wooded area, covered with twigs near Citronelle Alabama. There were several reports as to what happened just prior and what caused her death. It is believed her official cause of death would have been strangulation (I.e choking). This appears to have occurred after she was bound with duct tape, placed in a suitcase and then in a closet for approximately twelve hours. Other stories include that she was simply placed in the closet because she was “whiny and sick and throwing up” and that she continued to scream and it just stopped. This latter story came apparently from Heather. Her remains were found on December 11th, well what was left of them. Reports were that the only remains found were the skull, the lower jaw, pieces of ribs and a piece of scalp. She was apparently placed there in her pajamas as they were also found. The motive for her death seemed to vary. Prosecutors allege that Natalie's death resulted from Heather being jealous of the little girl. She commented in an interview that she didn't like it when extended family members (apparently her grandmother) referred to her as a princess.
Then on June 20, 2010 three year old Chase's body was dumped in the woods near Vancleave Mississippi. His cause of death was also apparently from choking. It was reported that the night before his death he had been taped to a broom handle with a sock put in his mouth and left in the corner of the couple's bedroom overnight (this was reportedly a regular discipline tactic). His body was found three days prior to Natalie's on December 8, 2010. Much like the case of Natalie only parts of his body were found. There was one report that stated that his body had actually been found a few days after his murder but there seems to be no credence to this claim. All other reports indicate that his body was not found until after the investigation had begun and John DeBlase had given investigators a map to the locations of the bodies. To add to this the fact that only separated bones were found indicate that it had been much longer than a few days since his body had been placed there. The supposed motive for his murder was the fact that he had been asking out in public about his sister.
There was another theory that the murders resulted because John and Heather were “tired” of the responsibility of children but considering the fact Heather was pregnant at the time of the murders I find this as an “odd” theory. It was said that after they had disposed of Chase's body they went to a store and bought video games because now they were “free” of children.
There was so much more about Heather and her trial then I could find on John and his. The prosecutor in her trial portrayed her as the mastermind of the murders and she was often called manipulative and controlling by the prosecutor and the investigators. John's trial ended with three death sentences but Heather's trial ended a bit different. For reasons that have yet to have been explained after seven hours of deliberations Heather's jury found her guilty of manslaughter in the death of Heather but murder in the case of Chase. Basically that said that they felt she intentionally killed Chase but only “recklessly” caused the death of Natalie. She received death for Chase's death plus twenty years in the death of Natalie. In her sentencing phase her defense was sadly almost comical to me. Her attorney argued that “She's a spiritual person now” and hence she should not be sentenced to death. They also argued that she had been raised in “a dysfunctional family” (really? Who hasn't?) and that she was diagnosed with bipolar when very young. She had also experience at least partial blindness most of her life which they indicated meant that she could not have done the acts she had been accused of committing.
I am sure there are appeals in the works as we speak but I somehow doubt any of them will be granted.
There seems to be a lot missing from this story that I was unable to find. There was a small mention that the children's mother, Corrine Heathcock was present in the courtroom but my question lies with where was she when her children were being abused and then disappeared off the face of the earth? It seems apparent that she was not involved in their lives considering there was three months between their deaths and another six before anyone even realized that the children were gone. There has also been a lot of questions about the story of other family members calling Natalie “Princess.” Again the question is asked where were these people? If they were so involved that the fact they called her Princess bothered Heather so much not only how did they not see abuse but how did they not know the children were missing. Had someone reported things at the very least it seems plausible that Chase would be alive, if not both of them. In the end I realize that no one is directly responsible for their deaths but Heather and John, but it still leaves questions.
In case anyone is wondering as of January 2017 Alabama no longer recognizes common-law marriages that began past 2016. I was surprised to know that there was any state in which it was still available even for that long.