PHOENIX (AP) — Members of a Phoenix family awoke nearly six years ago to a disturbing discovery in their home: A 10-year-old girl who lived there was dead inside a padlocked plastic storage box.
Authorities say two adult relatives are responsible for making Ame (AY-me) Deal get into the box the night before as punishment for stealing ice pops. They fell asleep without letting her out.
Ame's cousin, 28-year-old Sammantha Lucille Rebecca Allen, faces murder and child abuse charges stemming from the child's 2011 death. The trial had been scheduled to begin Monday, but officials said its start has been postponed until later this week.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Allen and her husband, 28-year-old John Michael Allen, who is scheduled to be tried Aug. 7 on child abuse and murder charges. Both have pleaded not guilty.
The 10-year-old's death was the cruel culmination of a history of abuse that authorities say a handful of relatives heaped on her.
Ame was forced to eat dog feces, crush aluminum cans barefoot, consume hot sauce and get in the storage box on other occasions. She also was kicked in the face, beaten with a wooden paddle and forcibly dunked after being thrown in a cold swimming pool, investigators said.
Authorities say Ame was treated more harshly than other children at the home, and her family members characterized her as a liar and thief.
"Several forensic interviews were conducted on relative children," investigators wrote in court records. "The common theme is, Ame is bad, Ame lies, Ame steals, Ame is not allowed to play."
Three other relatives, including an aunt who served as her legal guardian, are in prison serving sentences for abusing Ame.
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.
John Curry, one of Sammantha Allen's attorneys, and lawyer Gary Beren, who represents John Allen, didn't return calls seeking comment. Prosecutors with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office declined to comment.
Investigators say John Allen padlocked the girl in the box as punishment for the ice pop theft. Adults at the home originally claimed she hid during a late-night game of hide and seek and wasn't found until six or seven hours later.
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).
Ame's mother left the family years earlier after suffering abuse from relatives and moved to Kansas without taking her daughter with her.
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, is serving a 10-year prison sentence on a child abuse conviction.
Sammantha and John Allen are the only people charged in Ame's death.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/jacques%20billeaud .