Sentencing Phase Begins In Heather Keaton Trial

Sentencing Phase Begins In Heather Keaton Trial (Image 1)

UPDATE 3 (5 p.m.):

Jurors were sent home after listening to hours of testimony in day 1 of the penalty phase of the trial.

For much of the afternoon the defense had a hired psychologist on the stand.

She testified that she poured over Keaton’s medical records and mental evaluations and says dating back to childhood, Keaton was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and had symptoms of PTSD.

The defense argued the stress was a result of a childhood filled with sexual and physical abuse.

Keaton’s co-defendant, John DeBlase, was also called to testify by prosecutors. However he ultimately decided to invoke his Fifth Amendment right and declined testimony.

UPDATE 2  (11 a.m.):

The state calls a forensic examiner to the stand.  She testifies Chase could have died from antifreeze poisoning.  The defense points out that John DeBlase confessed to strangling the child and there’s no way for that witness to know the exact cause of death.  

UPDATE 1 (10:30 a.m.): 

The morning starts with legal questions between the DA and defense lawyers.  The defense is challenging the state on what they will show in the manner of the deaths of the children. 

Judge Rick Stout addresses Heather Keaton merely to reread the verdicts as part of some perfunctory action.  The first witness is Russell Benefield, part of MPD’s Identification unit.  He’s answering questions without the jury present.  They’re doing this to see what objections the defense would have to this testimony so as not to “taint” the jury if this testimony is inadmissible.  He testified the duct tape he found was in the shape of a human head. 

“There were teeth mark and chew marks where the eyes would have been and threads where the mouth would have been,” said Benefield.  A sock was attached to the duct tape.  The defense objects to this testimony because he doesn’t have specialized training and therefore cannot say the chew marks were made by small animals.  Jim Vollmer also argues there’s no way they can assume the sock was part of the duct tape bindings, it could have just come on the scene. 

Now the jury is back in the courtroom by 9:41 AM.  District Attorney Ashley Rich begins with an opening statement for their portion of the penalty phase.  State witnesses will present aggravating factors which may persuade the jury to recommend death for Heather Keaton.  Rich says what Keaton did was heinous, atrocious  and cruel compared to other capital offenses–it’s the only one of the aggravating factors listed by law that applies in this case. 

“You have all been here a long time, but it is important we all go through the penalty phase of this trial, hopefully this won’t take more than a few days but we have all have a job to do,” said Rich. “When you look at all of this evidence–the duct tape, the sock, the baby sock, the piles of duct tape found at various places, and you couple that with witness statements–that act was heinous, atrocious and cruel.”  Defense lawyer Greg Hughes begins his opening statement in the penalty phase of the trial. 

“Your personal feelings and values are much more important and your personal judgements become much more important,”  said Hughes.  The defense here is going to do what the defense did in the John DeBlase trial.  They’re going to claim Keaton was under the “substantial domination” of John DeBlase.  Last year in DeBlase’s murder trial, it was the other way around. 

“She will never be happy, she will never get out of prison,” said Hughes.  Deputy Benefield is back on the stand, this time testifying with the jury in front of him. 

ORIGINAL STORY:

A strange verdict in the Heather Keaton murder trial sets the state for the sentencing phase this morning.  Yesterday the jury found her guilty of capital murder in the death of Chase DeBlase but guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter in the death of Natalie.

The capital murder conviction makes Keaton eligible for the death penalty.  The jury will hear from state and defense witnesses.  State witnesses will likely try to convince the jury to vote for the death penalty.  Defense witnesses presented mitigating circumstances designed to persuade jurors to vote for life in prison instead. 

It is unlikely the jury will reach a decision this morning.  The defense alone has more than a dozen witnesses.  Judge Rick Stout will take that recommendation under advisement.  He will issue a final decision, upholding or amending, the jury’s decision in the coming weeks. 

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