By CLARICE SILBER, Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — Jurors sentenced a Phoenix woman to death on Monday in the killing of a 10-year-old cousin who was locked in a small plastic storage box and left to die as punishment for stealing an ice pop.
Sammantha Allen, 29, will become the 55th woman on death row in the U.S. after the jury reached its verdict Monday. There are only two other women on death row in Arizona, which is among the states struggling to buy execution drugs after pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products in lethal injections.
Jurors had been deliberating since Wednesday on whether to send Allen to death row or spare her life in the 2011 killing of Ame Deal. She was convicted of first-degree murder and four counts of child abuse on June 26.
Authorities said Allen and her husband are responsible for making Ame get into the box the night before as punishment for having stolen an ice pop. She was left in the box and found dead six or seven hours later.
The trial of her husband, John Allen, 29, is scheduled to start Oct. 9. He’s also charged with first-degree murder and child abuse and faces the death penalty. He has pleaded not guilty.
The girl’s death was the culmination of a history of abuse that a handful of relatives heaped on her, authorities say.
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.
Adults at the home originally claimed Ame hid during a late-night game of hide-and-seek and wasn’t found until hours later. Three other relatives are in prison serving sentences for abusing Ame.
Sammantha Allen’s mother, Cynthia Stoltzmann, who also was Ame’s legal guardian, is serving a 24-year prison sentence for a child abuse conviction.
Child welfare authorities in Arizona said they didn’t receive any reports of abuse before her death. But child welfare reports from Utah, where the family lived before moving to Phoenix, listed Ame as an abused child, police said.
The verdict comes after executions in Arizona were put on hold following the 2014 death of a prisoner who was given 15 doses of a two-drug combination before he died in what his attorney called a botched execution.
But the state is now able to resume executions after a lawsuit that challenged the way Arizona carries out the death penalty was settled earlier this summer. No executions are scheduled.