PHOENIX (AP) - The Arizona Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction and death sentence handed down to a woman in the 2011 suffocation of her 10-year-old cousin who was locked in a plastic storage box as punishment and left to die.
In a decision Tuesday, the justices rejected Sammantha Allen’s claims that prosecutors had improperly suggested she was the person who killed Ame Deal and that Allen’s husband was solely responsible for punishing the child.
Ame was ordered to get into the box because she had stolen an ice pop. Allen and her husband, John Allen, fell asleep and discovered the next morning that the child had died.
The court said Sammantha Allen not only failed to provide aid to her dying relative, but she also participated in the punishment and that her failure to release her from the container is what killed Ame.
"To characterize Sammantha’s actions as mere presence or a simple failure to render aid in a life-threatening situation mischaracterizes the facts," the justices wrote.
While the court upheld all of Allen’s convictions in Ame’s death, her two-year sentence for one of her four child abuse convictions was thrown out after prosecutors conceded that they had fallen short of the number of aggravating factors needed for a tougher sentence. She will be resentenced on one of the child abuse convictions.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court upheld John Allen’s convictions and death sentence.
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.
Investigators say 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.
She had been forced into the plastic box on other occasions. The box was less than 3 feet long (91 centimeters), less than 1 foot (30 centimeters) wide and a foot (30 centimeters) 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.