An Alabama judge who sentenced a Mobile County woman to death Thursday made her the first woman in the county ever to be sent to death row.
Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Roderick P. Stout followed a jury’s sentencing recommendation and sentenced Heather Leavell-Keaton to die by lethal injection, AL.com reports.
A jury convicted Leavell-Keaton in May for the 2010 deaths of her common-law husband’s two children. The jury found that Leavell-Keaton intentionally killed John DeBlase’s 3-year-old son, Chase DeBlase, and that she had recklessly caused the death of the boy’s 4-year-old sister, Natalie DeBlase.
John DeBlase was convicted in 2014 on multiple counts of capital murder in the children’s deaths and also sent to death row.
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Prosecutors alleged that Leavell-Keaton cooked anti-freeze into the children’s food. They said Natalie was also choked to death in March 2010 after having been bound with duct tape, placed in a suitcase, and then shut in a closet for 12 hours. Her body was found in the woods in the city of Citronelle.
Chase was killed in June 2010, according to prosecutors. He too was choked to death, according to courtroom testimony. It was also said the boy was duct taped to a broom handle and made to stand in a corner of the couple’s bedroom overnight. His body was found in a wooded area in Mississippi.
At the sentencing portion of Leavell-Keaton’s trial in June, the jury voted 11 to 1 to sentence her to death, with a lone juror recommending life in prison without parole.
“A death penalty verdict is never personally gratifying,” Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich said at the time, according to AL.com
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“A death penalty verdict was appropriate in this case and the jury did what was appropriate given the heinous, atrocious and cruel acts committed against Chase DeBlase and Natalie DeBlase,” she added.
Stout seemed to agree Thursday when he said Leavell-Keaton had failed to protect the children form “needless suffering and death and unexplainable malice.”
Leavell-Keaton’s attorney, Greg Hughes, argued prior to sentencing that his client should be spared the death penalty. He claimed his client had come from a dysfunctional family, struggled with bipolar disorder, and lived with partial blindness, but “she's a spiritual person now.”
“She's into reading the Bible and writing songs and poems and she keeps to herself,” Hughes told the judge. “She's not going to be someone causing problems.”
In the past 100 years, more than 40 women have been executed in the U.S., with 15 being executed since 1976, according to Death Penalty Information Center. Fifty-seven women were on death row as of Oct. 1, 2014. That constitutes roughly 1.88 percent of the total death row population.