Trial begins for man charged in death of girl who died in a box
When police came to the little house in southwest Phoenix in July 2011, they found a 10-year-old girl on her back on a towel in the living room.
Her clothes were wet, her hair matted, her fingernails and ankles turning purple, her skin yellow, and her lips were blue and pulling away from her teeth. What also struck the officer was how her hands were raised to her shoulders and frozen in claws.
And though a woman was performing CPR on the girl, the officer was pretty sure she was already dead.
Her name was Ame Deal.
Her cousin’s husband, John Allen, then 22, told the officer that Ame and her siblings and cousins were playing hide-and-seek the night before, and in the morning they found her locked in a plastic box 31 inches long by 151⁄2 inches wide by 13 inches deep.
Ame was 51 inches tall.
The black box, which looks like a cross between a suitcase and a footlocker, was on the floor beside the dead girl. There was about an inch of fluid on the bottom of the box — the dying girl’s bodily fluids.
Over the next week, John Allen’s accident story unraveled, and he and his wife, Sammantha, were arrested.
They had allegedly punished Ame for stealing a popsicle, locking her in
the box after forcing her to do calisthenics for hours in the July heat. They put a padlock on the box to make sure she couldn’t get out. Though they discussed releasing her later that night, they went to sleep instead, leaving the girl to slowly suffocate in the box, which was left in an uncooled garage that had been converted into a home-schooling classroom.
According to prosecutor Jay Rademacher, it was not the only time Ame was punished in the box.
John Allen, now 29, went on trial Monday in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Sammantha Allen was sentenced to death in August for her part in the murder, and prosecutors would like to send John there as well.
Three other family members already are in prison for their roles in the case. Judith Deal is serving a 10-year sentence for a child-abuse conviction. Cynthia Stoltzman, who was Ame’s aunt and legal guardian, is serving 24 years for child abuse in the case. Ame’s father, David Deal, is serving 14 years for child abuse.
John Allen is charged with first-degree felony murder, three counts of child abuse, and one count of conspiracy to commit child abuse.
“All of this over a popsicle,” prosecutor Rademacher said in his opening statements Monday.
He created a mental image of the crime, describing the calisthenics, the scolding.
“Ame would have heard the lock click shut,” he told a jury panel of 11 women and five men. “And then she began the fight of her life, a fight she would lose.
“Ame died in that box,” Rademacher said.