The fate of Sammantha Allen, who left her 10-year-old cousin to die in a padlocked box, is now in the hands of a jury to decide whether she will be placed on death row or spend the rest of her life in an Arizona prison. 

The jury was sent to deliberate her sentence Tuesday afternoon at the conclusion of her death penalty hearing, which lasted nearly three weeks in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Her defense attorney, during his closing argument Monday, tried to convince jurors that Allen didn’t intend to murder 10-year-old Ame Deal, while a state prosecutor argued it was her choice.

Allen, 29, was convicted of first-degree murder in June for her role in the 2011 killing. Prosecutors said Allen had told her husband, John, to lock Ame in a 31-inch-long box around bedtime as punishment for her behavior.

Ame was locked in the box for at least six hours overnight. There, she suffocated and was found dead the next morning. 

Defense: Killing Ame ‘was not her plan’ 

Defense attorney Jeremy Bogart said Allen forgot to let Ame out of the box.  

“They (Allen and her husband) fell asleep and then woke up into a nightmare,” Bogart said. 

The defense has listed mitigating factors that could have influenced Allen’s actions, in an effort to persuade jurors to impose a life sentence instead of the death penalty.

A decision for the death penalty would have to be unanimous among the 12 jurors.

Borgart argued that Allen’s abuse of Ame was a family cycle that included Allen’s grandmother, Judith Deal, and  Allen’s mother, Cynthia Stoltzmann.

He said Allen had transferred to three different schools during fourth grade and had been isolated from an outside world after she was home-schooled at 10 by her mother and grandmother.

“Imagine how different your life could be. And you stop going to school at 10,” Bogart told the jury. 

Before Allen turned 18, she had to move more than 20 times across six states. And every time she moved, she had to live in a filthy house with up to 15 family members,  Bogart said. 

While living in those conditions, Allen had seen her grandmother and mother abusing Ame, Bogart said, which influenced Allen’s judgement when she ordered Ame locked in the box.

“This (the box) was a method of discipline this family used,” he said. “It was clear that Cynthia began this punishment and practiced a confinement years ago … and the expectation was that punishing Ame would correct her behavior.” 

‘Ame’s life meant nothing to Allen’s family’

Deputy County Attorney Jeannette Gallagher said Allen chose to let  Ame suffocate and die in the box overnight. 

Gallagher said Allen repeatedly said, “Why are you so bad?” to Ame, as the child suffered in the box.

“Defendant (Allen) took Ame’s life for no reason,” Gallagher said. 

Disputing the defense’s claim that Allen was forced to live in a filthy, overcrowded family house, Gallagher said it was her choice. 

Gallagher said Allen could have lived with her husband in a clean house in Utah. However, Gallagher said Allen chose to move into the  house to stay with her mother. 

Gallagher said no evidence indicates the grandmother ever locked any children in a box to discipline them.

Rather, for nine days before Ame died, Gallagher said, Allen’s mother and grandmother spent most of their time at a hospital to be with Allen’s older sister.  And it was mostly Allen and her husband who took care of her three cousins — Ame, Davie and C.J., Gallagher said. 

It was the couple’s will, and no one else’s, to let Ame die in the box overnight, Gallagher said. 

Allen’s hearing continues Tuesday in Superior Court, and the matter could go to the jury as soon as then.

Allen’s husband also is charged with murder in Ame’s death. A trial is scheduled to begin Monday.

The three other adults — Judith Deal, Cynthia Stoltzmann and David Deal, who is Allen’s uncle — all are serving prison terms after being convicted of child abuse related to Ame’s death. 


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