PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona man was sentenced to death on Thursday for murdering a 10-year-old girl, by locking her in a footlocker for taking a Popsicle without permission, a court official said.
A jury in Phoenix returned the verdict against John Allen, 29, after deliberating for several hours in the July 2011 suffocation death of Ame Deal, the cousin of Allen’s wife, said court spokesman Vincent Funari.
Allen was convicted of first-degree murder, three counts of child abuse and conspiracy to commit child abuse on Nov. 8. The jury found the murder to be especially cruel and heinous, making him eligible for the death penalty.
His wife, Sammantha Allen, was sentenced to death in August, after she was convicted of murder in connection with the child’s death. The girl died at the Phoenix home which the Allens shared with other relatives.
The child, who was in the Allens’ care, was forced to perform exhaustive physical exercise, as temperatures reached into the triple digits, for taking a frozen treat from a refrigerator, police said.
The couple then ordered her into a hinged, plastic container that prosecutors said only had small air holes at its handles. John Allen locked her inside the small box, as his wife looked on, police said. The couple then fell asleep.
Ame remained inside overnight and was found dead the next morning.
An attorney for John Allen could not be reached for comment following the sentencing in Maricopa County Superior Court.
“Jonathan Allen, along with his wife, Sammantha, received the only proportionate penalty that could rightly be imposed for the torture and pain they put Ame through,” County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a statement.
Police said officers were initially told Deal died as the result of a hide-and-seek game that turned tragic. A police investigation soon revealed the true facts in the case.
Ame’s aunt and legal guardian, Cynthia Stoltzmann, who is Sammantha Allen’s mother, pleaded guilty to child abuse charges in connection with her treatment of the girl, and she is serving a sentence of 24 years in prison. Police said she was not present when the girl was locked in the storage bin.
Judith Deal, the child’s grandmother, pleaded guilty to attempted child abuse charges and was sentenced to 10 years behind bars, and the girl’s father David Deal, also pleaded guilty to attempted child abuse and is serving a 14-year sentence.
Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Lisa Shumaker