Sammantha Allen’s disrupted childhood caused her to think it was OK to lock her 10-year-old cousin, Ame Deal, in a box as a way to punish the girl, Allen’s defense lawyer said in a court hearing this week.
Defense attorney John Curry wants to convince a Maricopa County Superior Court jury that Allen should not be put to death for her role in the child’s murder in 2011.
Allen was found guilty of first-degree murder and four counts of child abuse last month for her role in Ame’s death.
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On July 5, the jury determined Allen is eligible for the death penalty. Now it must decide whether she should be put to death or serve a life sentence, based on certain mitigating factors.
Her lawyer this week has been attempting to convince a jury that Allen’s childhood is such a factor.
Little stability as a child
Allen’s mother served as her primary role model in life, Curry said during his opening statement on Monday, noting that she did not live with her father.
Curry said Allen was home-schooled after finishing fourth grade. From 1988 to 2010, she moved 28 times across New Mexico, Texas, Pennsylvania, Utah and Arizona to stay with her mother, Cynthia Stoltzmann. She moved to Arizona in June 2010.
Stoltzmann, who was Ame’s legal guardian, is serving a 24-year prison sentence after being convicted of child abuse related to Ame’s death. Stoltzmann’s mother, Judith Deal, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for child abuse in the case.
Ame died July 27, 2011, at her Phoenix home, where she lived with Allen and several other family members. Authorities say the child was placed in a footlocker that was locked as a punishment.
John Michael Allen, Sammantha’s husband, also is charged in the child’s murder. He faces trial Aug. 7.
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Wherever Sammantha Allen was, she wanted to stay with Stoltzmann, who, Curry said, first began locking Ame in a box and later influenced Allen to consider that locking up Ame was an accepted means of child discipline.
“That’s all she knew,” Curry said.
Besides her mother and other relatives at the home, Curry said, Allen had barely known anyone who would show her another way of life. As a result, Allen didn’t understand why locking Ame in the box was wrong, Curry suggested.
Allen and her mother share a similar childhood background. They both moved frequently and rarely had a chance to develop friendships at school, and neither received good parenting, Curry argued.
Stoltzmann, who was brought to court to testify Tuesday, said her parents, Judith Deal and Arthur Deal, divorced when she was 12.
After splitting up with her husband, Stolzmann’s mother married several times, not for love, but for financial support, Stolzmann testified.
During her mother’s spotty marriages, Stoltzmann occasionally visited her dad, who served in the Air Force, which her mother didn’t like.
Stolzmann said she loves her parents. However, she recalls more bad memories of her parents than good ones.
“He used to come home on his leave, that he would demolish most of our toys and get rid of them,” Stolzmann said of her father. “My dad had a temper.”
Case of Phoenix girl who died in footlocker
Witness: Allen was nice to Ame at first
Colette Tasker, a former caseworker at the Utah Department of Child and Family Services who investigated a physical-abuse case involving Ame in 2007, said Tuesday that nowhere in the report did it say Allen physically abused the child in Utah.
Deputy County Attorney Jeanette Gallagher asked Tasker whether she saw either Allen or other relatives forcing Ame to eat or locking Ame in a box while visiting their home. Tasker said no.
Joe Evans, who was married to Allen in Utah, testified Tuesday that while he lived with Allen from late 2006 to June 2007, Allen didn’t physically abuse Ame, but was nice to her cousin.
Allen lived in poor neighborhoods
Monday’s testimony included the places Allen lived when she grew up.
Karen McChristian, who was an employee at an elementary school near Marana, Arizona, where Allen went, said the school was for low-income families who could not even afford buying a medical shampoo for their kids suffering from lice.
McChristian described the neighborhood where Allen’s family lived as an area where parents leave their kids in a car while drinking beers at a bar. She, however, didn’t say whether Ame was one of those kids left alone in a car.
Amy Nguyen, a geographical-information service analyst from Texas, said most of the streets where Allen resided prior to 2010 were among the poorest in her neighborhood.
Gallagher has yet to present her case for the death penalty.
As part of this week’s hearing, the jury on Monday heard a statement from Ame’s biological mother, Shirley Deal.
“Learning … how she suffered in the box was devastating, and it’s something that would never leave me,” Deal said. “I struggle, sadness and depression, because of Ame’s murder.”
The hearing will continue Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. before Judge Teresa Sanders.
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