PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the murder conviction and death sentence of a man in the suffocation of a 10-year-old girl he locked in a plastic storage box as punishment and left to die.
The justices rejected John Michael Allen’s claim that jurors abused their discretion in sentencing him to death in the 2011 killing of Ame Deal, who prosecutors said was ordered by Allen to get into the box because she had stolen an ice pop. Allen and his wife, who was Ame’s cousin, fell asleep and discovered the next morning that the child had died.
“Even if Allen did not intend to fall asleep and leave (Ame) inside the box for more than six hours, he should have known that placing her there for any length of time would cause (Ame) physical pain and mental anguish,” the justices wrote, concluding there was substantial evidence showing Allen carried out the killing in an especially cruel manner.
The court upheld Allen’s death sentence but threw out sentences for three related child abuse convictions, concluding the trial court improperly applied harsher sentencing enhancements than were available for Allen. He will be re-sentenced on those three convictions.
Colin Stearns, one of Allen’s attorneys, didn’t immediately respond to a call and email seeking comment on his client’s behalf.
Allen’s wife, Sammantha Allen, also was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the killing of Ame. She has appealed her conviction.
The 10-year-old’s death was the cruel culmination of a history of abuse that a handful of relatives heaped on her at the home they shared in Phoenix, authorities said.
Evidence showed Ame was forced to eat dog feces, crush aluminum cans barefoot and consume hot sauce. She was kicked in the face, beaten with a wooden paddle and forcibly dunked after being thrown in a cold swimming pool, investigators said.
She had been forced into the plastic box on 10 other occasion for hours at a time. The box was less than 3 feet long (0.91 meters), less than 1 foot (0.3 meter) wide and a foot deep. Ame stood about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall and weighed nearly 60 pounds (27 kilograms).
Authorities say Ame was treated more harshly than other children at the home, and her family members characterized her as a liar and thief.
Three other relatives, including an aunt who served as Ame’s legal guardian, were sentenced to prison for abusing the girl.
Child welfare authorities in Arizona said they didn’t receive any reports of abuse before her death. Police said child welfare reports from Utah, where the family lived before moving to Phoenix, listed Ame as an abused child.
Ame’s mother left the family years earlier after suffering abuse by relatives and moved to Kansas without taking her daughter. David Deal, who is listed on Ame’s birth certificate as her father, is serving a 14-year sentence after pleading guilty to attempted child abuse.
Ame’s legal guardian at the time of her death was her aunt, Cynthia Stoltzmann, who is serving a 24-year prison sentence for a child abuse conviction. Ame’s grandmother, Judith Deal, was sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence on a child abuse conviction.
Sammantha and John Allen were the only people charged in Ame’s death.