PHOENIX – Prosecutors on Tuesday showed jurors a small plastic box where a 10-year-old Arizona girl was found dead in 2011 and urged jurors to convict the child's relative of murder.
Prosecutors said John Michael Allen, 29, crammed Ame Deal, his wife's cousin, inside the small storage box as punishment for stealing ice pops and could have saved her from dying but chose to go to sleep instead. They pointed out a few tiny holes through which air could have entered the locked box, which was left outside during the hot Phoenix summer.
"He helped his wife to sleep while Ame was trapped in a box that was 21 inches shorter than she was," according to the lead prosecutor. "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."
Defense attorney Robert Reinhardt argued that Allen, a father of four young children, did not intend for the girl to die. The other adults in the home created the abusive home environment and were "playing John like a fiddle. John was manipulated," Reinhardt said.
The closing arguments came as Judge Erin O'Brien Otis took the highly unusual step of barring news organizations from publishing the name of the prosecutor in the case.
The names of prosecutors and other lawyers involved in criminal cases are routinely part of the public record, but the judge decided to ban journalists from using her name or risk being found in contempt of court. They also were barred from publishing photographs of the prosecutor, who was given the protections because she is a victim in another case that is in deliberations.
Ame's death was the culmination of a shocking history of abuse at the hands of relatives who were charged with caring for her. Allen's wife, Sammantha, was convicted of murder and child abuse in June and is on death row.
John Allen is facing charges of first-degree murder, child abuse and conspiracy to commit child abuse. If convicted, he also could receive the death penalty.
Investigators stated in court records that according to interviews with other children in the family, "the common theme is Ame is bad, Ame lies, Ame steals, Ame is not allowed to play."
Ame's mother left the family years earlier after suffering abuse from relatives and moved to Kansas without her daughter. David Deal, who is listed as the girl's father on her birth certificate, is serving a 14-year sentence after pleading guilty to attempted child abuse.
Ame's legal guardian at the time of her death was her aunt, Cynthia Stoltzmann, who is serving a 24-year prison sentence for a child abuse conviction. Ame's grandmother, Judith Deal, is serving 10 years for child abuse.
Follow Terry Tang at twitter.com/ttangAP.