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New sentencing ordered for woman convicted in kids’ deaths

October 7, 2020 GMT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An appeals court ordered a new hearing for a woman convicted of killing her two stepchildren because she wasn’t allowed to speak on her own behalf before being sentenced to death.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, in an opinion dated Monday, said a judge erred by failing to give Heather Leavell Keaton a chance to speak before she was sent to prison in 2015.

A judge doesn’t have to hold an entirely new sentencing hearing for Keaton, the court ruled, but it must give her a chance to talk in court and consider anything she says before deciding whether to again sentence her to death or to a lesser sentence of life without parole.

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Prosecutors initially claimed the court didn’t have to let the woman speak but changed its position during the appeals process, the decision said.

Keaton, 31, was convicted of capital murder in the death of 3-year-old Chase DeBlase and manslaughter in the death of 4-year-old Natalie DeBlase. Prosecutors said the children were tortured, gagged, choked to death and their bodies were found in remote areas near Citronelle, Alabama and Vancleave, Mississippi.

The children’s father, John DeBlase, also was convicted in their deaths and was sentenced to death.