US woman who left 10-year-old cousin to die in sweltering plastic box gets death penalty

Sammantha Allen in a police booking photo released in Phoenix, Arizona, on July 28, 2011. The 29-year-old was convicted of first-degree murder and four counts of child abuse.
Sammantha Allen in a police booking photo released in Phoenix, Arizona, on July 28, 2011. The 29-year-old was convicted of first-degree murder and four counts of child abuse. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - In the end, it was the pictures that convinced jurors that Sammantha Allen needed to die.

The photos, shown on the second day of Allen's trial, displayed the dirt-caked body of 10-year-old Ame Deal next to the incomprehensibly small box where she spent her final moments, suffocating.

The box had once stored Barbie dolls before the collection got too big. Allen and other family members were accused of making the child fold herself into the box as punishment for stealing an ice pop.

"The pictures of the victim stayed in our minds," juror Ann Ospeth told the Arizona Republic. "I think the thing for us was the victim and all the things her life entailed."

Allen, 29, was convicted of first-degree murder and four counts of child abuse for making her young cousin exercise in the sweltering Arizona heat and then padlocking her in the box, which measured just 31 by 14 by 12 inches (79 by 36 by 30cm).

Allen fell asleep and forgot about the girl, who was found dead nearly seven hours later, in the summer of 2011, according to the Associated Press.

It was the end of Ame's brief, abuse-filled life in a crowded home in south Phoenix, prosecutors argued. She had been the victim of physical abuse, including being kicked in the face and beaten with a wooden paddle.

The adults in the house made Ame drink hot sauce, eat dog faeces and crush aluminium cans with her bare feet.

The night she died, in July 2011, was not the first time her relatives had forced her into the plastic storage box to punish her. At the time, the temperature exceeded 100 deg F (38 deg C).

Allen was found guilty on June 26, according to the Republic.

For more than a week, a jury deliberated to determine whether there were mitigating factors that meant she should not be given the death penalty - including her own dysfunctional upbringing and her age.

"Lack of remorse was the biggest thing that played into it for us, that we didn't see that from Sammantha throughout the whole process," juror Anne Schaad told CBS affiliate KTVK.

On Monday (July 31), the jury decided on the death penalty.

Cynthia Stoltzmann - Allen's mother and Ame's legal guardian - is serving a 24-year prison sentence for a child abuse conviction.

The trial of John Allen, Allen's 29-year-old husband, is scheduled to start on Oct 9, according to the AP. He has pleaded not guilty to the same charges as his wife and also faces the death penalty.

David Deal, Ame's father, was convicted of attempted child abuse and sentenced to jail, according to KTVK.

In the moments after they discovered Ame dead, the adults in the house concocted a story about a game of hide-and-seek going tragically wrong, the AP reported.

But the Allens eventually confessed to padlocking the girl in the box, where she died.

Sammantha Allen becomes the third woman on Arizona's death row, and the first since 2011, when Shawna Forde was sentenced to death, according to the Arizona Republic.

The AP reported that she was the 55th woman sentenced to death nationwide. Some 2,800 men are facing execution across the country, according to the NAACP Legal Defence Fund.

Arizona has struggled to acquire the drugs used for lethal injection and conducted a review after the botched 2014 execution of Joseph Wood.

Companies that manufacture the most common lethal injection drugs have stopped shipping them to death penalty states, distancing themselves from a practice many view as barbaric. Some medical professionals have taken a similar stance, saying their duty is to save lives, not end them.

After the jury's verdict was read in Allen's case, she hung her head and wept. Her attorney, Mr John Curry, told reporters: "I just feel sad."

But Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery told the Republic that condemning Allen to death was the correct decision: "I want to thank the members of the jury for their time and effort on this case and reaching a difficult but just conclusion for the senseless murder of Ame."