After seeing the small trunk where 10-year-old Ame Deal suffocated to death in 2011, an Arizona jury on Wednesday convicted a relative of her murder – the last of five people to be found guilty in connection with her death, PEOPLE confirms.
John Allen, 29, was convicted of first-degree murder, three counts of child abuse and conspiracy to commit child abuse, a Maricopa County Superior Court spokesperson announced Wednesday.
Prosecutors said Allen, 29, stuffed the child — who is his wife’s cousin — inside the small storage box to punish her for stealing a popsicle. She suffocated after she was padlocked overnight in the container in the sweltering summer heat, said prosecutors.
Left in the locked trunk on a hot summer day for more than six hours, she died gasping for air and lying in a pool of her own urine and sweat, said prosecutors.
During closing arguments, prosecutors showed the jury photos of Ame’s discolored and disfigured body after she was found in the trunk, the Phoenix New Times reports.
Allen could have saved Deal but chose to go to sleep instead, prosecutors said, according to the Associated Press and news station Fox 10 in Phoenix.
“He helped his wife to sleep while Ame was trapped in a box that was 21 inches shorter than she was,” the lead prosecutor said, according to the AP. “He chose to leave Ame to suffocate to death in her own sweat. That’s what little regard the defendant had for Ame’s life.”
Allen’s attorney argued that his client did not intend for the girl to die, the Phoenix New Times reports.
Other adults in the home abused the child and were “playing John like a fiddle,” alleged his attorney Robert Reinhardt, saying, “John was manipulated.”
Allen is the fourth person convicted of harming Ame.
On Aug. 7, his wife, Sammantha Allen, 29, was sentenced to death for her role in the 2011 murder of her 10-year-old cousin. She is now the third woman on Arizona’s death row. She was found guilty of first-degree murder and four counts of child abuse on June 26 in the death of the child.
Ame’s father, David, was sentenced in June 2013 to 14 years in prison for attempted child-abuse of Ame.
Her grandmother, Judith, was sentenced in September 2013 to 10 years in prison and lifetime probation after pleading guilty to two counts of attempted child abuse.
Cynthia Stoltzmann, who was Ame’s legal guardian and aunt, was sentenced to 24 years in prison and lifetime probation in September 2013 after pleading guilty to two counts of child abuse and one count of attempted child abuse.
A Life of Torment That Ended in Death
The abuse Ame suffered at the hands of the people who were supposed to care for her surfaced on July 12, 2011, when police were called to the family’s home in Phoenix and found her dead inside a plastic storage box.
Family members initially said that she liked to hide in the box and must have fallen asleep, according to prosecutors.
Under questioning, Sammantha Allen told police she knew the girl had been left in the container, the Arizona Republic reports. “There never was intention of killing her,” she said. But she said that her husband, John Allen, “said he was going to get her out.”
In a video of her questioning that was shown at her trial, however, Sammantha told a detective that she knew Ame was still in the container when she went to sleep, according to the Republic.
Authorities believe Sammantha and John were responsible for forcing Ame into the box and had fallen asleep without letting her out.
Before she was padlocked inside the box, John allegedly forced Ame to do back-bends for two hours and run around the yard despite the searing 103-degree temperature, the Republic reports.
Authorities said Ame was routinely locked inside the plastic box and abused by her caretakers. In one instance, the young girl was forced to eat dog feces and had it rubbed in her face after she failed to pick up a dog’s dropping, according to the Republic.
She was also allegedly made to crush aluminum cans barefoot, eat hot sauce and had been kicked in the face, beaten with a paddle and tossed into a cold swimming pool, according to the AP and CBS News.
Sammantha was sentenced to 76 years for four counts of child abuse, on top of her death sentence.
The AP reported that authorities had found Ame often the target of abuse in the family.
“Several forensic interviews were conducted on relative children,” investigators wrote in court records obtained by the news outlet. “The common theme is, Ame is bad, Ame lies, Ame steals, Ame is not allowed to play.”
John Allen’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.