PHOENIX — A lawyer for a Phoenix woman convicted in the killing of a 10-year-old cousin who was padlocked for hours in a plastic storage box pleaded with jurors at her trial Monday not to sentence her to death, saying she grew up in a dysfunctional household where corporal punishment was accepted and where adults treated the victim more harshly than other children living there.

Attorney John Curry urged jurors to instead impose a life prison sentence against 28-year-old Sammantha Lucille Rebecca Allen in the 2011 death of Ame Deal. Authorities said Allen and her husband are responsible for making Ame get into the box the night before as punishment for having stolen an ice pop and had fallen asleep without letting her out. She was found dead six or seven hours later.

Curry said other adults at the home, including Allen’s mother, had used the box as a way of punishing Ame, who investigators say had suffered other abuses at the hands of family members. He said his client had adopted the culture of the home. “She is the way she is because of the way she was raised,” Curry told jurors.

Two weeks ago, jurors found Allen guilty of first-degree murder and child abuse charges. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Allen and her husband. They declined to make an opening statement Monday during the trial’s penalty phase, but they may make those arguments later on at the trial.

John Michael Allen is scheduled to be tried Oct. 9 on child abuse and murder charges. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The 10-year-old’s death was the cruel culmination of a history of abuse that authorities say a handful of relatives heaped on her.

Ame was forced to eat dog feces, crush aluminum cans barefoot, consume hot sauce and get in the storage box on other occasions. She also was kicked in the face, beaten with a wooden paddle and forcibly dunked after being thrown in a cold swimming pool, investigators said.

Family members characterized Ame as a liar and thief, authorities say.

A juror was excused from the case after expressing concerns in a letter to the court about the emotional and physical toll that the case was taking on him.

Curry told jurors that Allen had a difficult childhood. She never met her father, lived in crowded houses in poor sections of town and moved around frequently with her family. She was pulled out of school in the fourth grade, and her family had given up on the idea of home schooling her during her teenage years, Curry said.

Prosecutor Jeannette Gallagher started making arguments to the jury Monday, but she stopped after a minute or two after the jury was taken out of the courtroom during an argument about Allen’s mental health condition. The prosecutor later declined to make opening arguments, but she may do so later on in the trial.

“While some people may think this is a terrible, horrible childhood, that is not how the defendant perceived it,” Gallagher said moments before the jury was removed from the room.

Allen looked squarely at the jury as her attorney argued for a more lenient sentence.

Jurors were read a brief statement from Ame’s mother, Shirley Deal, who left the family years earlier after suffering abuse from relatives and moved away without taking her daughter with her.

Deal, who wasn’t in court, expressed sorrow for not being in Arizona to protect her daughter from the abuse. “For that, I am sorry,” Shirley Deal said, adding that she is haunted daily by her daughter’s death.

Child welfare authorities in Arizona said they didn’t receive any reports of abuse before her death. Child welfare reports from Utah, where the family lived before moving to Phoenix, listed Ame as an abused child, police said.

Three other relatives are in prison serving sentences for abusing Ame. Allen’s mother, Cynthia Stoltzmann, who also was Ame’s legal guardian, is serving a 24-year prison sentence for a child abuse conviction.

Adults at the home originally had claimed Ame hid during a late-night game of hide and seek and wasn’t found until six or seven hours later.

The storage box was less than 3 feet long (0.91 meters), less than 1 foot (0.3 meter) wide and a foot deep. Ame stood about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall and weighed nearly 60 pounds (27 kilograms).

Sammantha and John Allen are the only people charged in Ame’s death.


Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/jacques%20billeaud.