PHOENIX (AP) — The father of a 10-year-old Arizona girl who authorities say died after another relative padlocked her in a footlocker pleaded guilty Wednesday to an attempted child abuse charge.
David Martin Deal, 53, isn't charged in the July 2011 death of his daughter Ame Deal. He admitted in court Wednesday to putting her into the plastic box and throwing the box into a pool about a year before her death.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Susanna Pineda asked Deal whether the allegations against him were true. "Yes," answered Deal, who faces up to 16 years in prison for guilty pleas to attempted child abuse and marijuana possession charges. The plea agreement recommends a 14-year sentence for Deal, who is set to be sentenced on June 6.
Authorities say Ame Deal died after a man who is married to the girl's cousin padlocked her in the footlocker as discipline for having stolen Popsicles. She was left in the plastic box all night and was found dead the next morning at the Phoenix home where her relatives lived.
The footlocker was less than 3 feet long, less than a foot wide and a foot deep. The 10-year-old stood just over four feet and weighed nearly 60 pounds.
Investigators say family members heaped a range of abuse on the girl from 2005 until her death by locking her in the footlocker on several occasions as a form of punishment, beating her with a wooden paddle, kicking her in the face while she was on the ground, forcing her to crush aluminum cans with bare feet, scrubbing her face with a wire brush and putting powerful hot sauce in her mouth.
Authorities say Ame Deal was treated more harshly than other children at the home and that her family members characterized her as a liar and a thief.
Child welfare authorities in Arizona say they didn't receive any reports of abuse about Ame Deal before her death. But police said they had child welfare agency reports from Utah that listed Deal as an abused child.
In all, six Deal relatives have faced various charges in the case. In addition to the guilty pleas by the girl's father, her aunt, who served as the girl's legal guardian, pleaded guilty to child abuse charges last week.
Deal's cousin and her husband, Sammantha Lucille Rebecca Allen and John Michael Allen, both 24, are charged with first-degree murder in the girl's death. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against the Allens, who have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The child's paternal grandmother, Judith Deal, has pleaded not guilty to child abuse charges. Child abuse charges against a 26-year-old Deal cousin were dismissed earlier this month because prosecutors said there wasn't enough evidence for the case to move forward.