An Arizona jury on Monday returned a guilty verdict against a woman charged with murder after her 10-year-old cousin was locked inside a small plastic storage container overnight and left to suffocate outside in 100-plus degree heat.
PEOPLE confirms that Sammantha Allen, 28, was convicted of the 2011 murder of Ame Deal as well as three counts each of child abuse and conspiracy to commit child abuse. Jurors deliberated for only a few hours.
During Allen’s two-week trial, prosecutors said she assisted as her husband, John Allen, locked Ame inside the 32-inch-long plastic box in which the girl would eventually die in Phoenix in July 2011.
Police believe Ame was placed in the box after stealing a Popsicle. She was found dead inside the next day.
Air could only enter the storage container through two small holes, court officials confirm, adding that prosecutors told jurors Ame was routinely locked inside the plastic box and abused by her caretakers.
The girl was also forced to sleep on the floor of a shower stall, according to prosecutors. When she lied, hot sauce was squirted into her mouth.
Prosecutors said they plan to seek the death penalty for Sammantha if possible.
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According to police, Ame’s family initially lied about how she came to be in the storage container: At first, they told authorities she had hidden there during a late-night game of hide and seek.
Later, under questioning, Sammantha told police she knew the girl had been left in the container, the Arizona Republic reports.
“There never was intention on killing her,” she said.
She said that her husband “said he was going to get her out.”
But in video of her questioning shown at at her trial, Sammantha told a detective that she knew Ame was still in the container when she went to sleep, according to the Republic.
A History of Abuse
A court official who spoke to PEOPLE says Allen’s attorneys claimed during the trial that abuse was common in the three-bedroom home Ame was living in with her aunt, Cynthia Stoltzmann, and at least nine other adults and children.
The defense argued that Ame’s death was Stoltzmann’s fault and tried to prove it was Stoltzmann who decided Ame should be punished — and then instructed Allen to carry out her instructions.
In June, Stoltzmann was sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted child abuse.
John Allen, who also faces murder and child abuse charges in Ame’s death, will stand trial starting on Aug. 7. Neither prosecutors nor attorneys for John or Sammantha Allen immediately returned messages seeking comment.
In 2013, David Deal, Ame’s father, pleaded guilty to attempted child abuse and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Ame’s grandmother, Judith Deal, received a 10-year prison sentence this spring after pleading guilty to child abuse charges.
According to the Associated Press, authorities previously found that Ame was a unique target of scorn in her family.
“Several forensic interviews were conducted on relative children,” investigators wrote in court records obtained by the AP. “The common theme is, Ame is bad, Ame lies, Ame steals, Ame is not allowed to play.”