In August, Sammantha Allen became the first woman sent to death row by a Maricopa County jury since 2004.
Eva Dugan is the first and only female executed in Arizona, in 1930, for killing a man she worked for in Pima County. She had been married five times, and all her husbands had reportedly disappeared.
This afternoon, none of the jurors looked at John Allen as they filed into court stone-faced after finishing deliberation for the penalty phase of the trial. He was convicted of first-degree murder last week.
Allen, dressed in olive-green slacks and tie and gray shirt, flashed a half-smile at the 10 members of his family in the courtroom.
Then Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Erin O’Brien Otis sentenced Allen to death by lethal injection, adding at least 36 years in prison for child abuse and conspiracy to commit child abuse.
Allen stared at his hands but did not react. One woman gasped and lowered her head.
After a pausing a long minute, Allen addressed the judge.
“I want to say I’m sorry,” he said, breaking down.
“What happened was an accident. I’m an idiot. I’m a jerk. It was an accident. I’m sorry to Ame. I’m sorry to her
family. I’m sorry to my family. I shamed all of them.”
Two women in his family start sobbing. Allen fought through tears throughout and could not get up from the table. He had his head in his hands, sobbing as a circle of bailiffs and attorneys hovered around him. He remained like that for five minutes after the judge left the bench.
“In my entire career, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a worse case,” Judge Otis said after the verdict was read.
"This was one of the most unnecessary deaths of a child I’ve ever seen."
Family members declined comment. As Allen was led away, they clung to each other in twos and threes, sobbing.
During Allen's trial and in court documents, the image of a living hell emerged about the house in southwest Phoenix. The evidence showed kids had been treated to routine belt lashings and paddling with the “butt buster,” but that Ame was singled out for worse treatment.
When police asked Sammantha Allen what her driving moral belief was, she said, “Honor thy mother and father.” She had acted out of a misguided sense of family loyalty, her lawyer told that jury.
Stoltzmann and Ame’s grandmother, Judith Deal, had already been sentenced to lengthy prison terms on child-abuse convictions; 24 years and 10 years, respectively. Ame’s father, David Deal, was sentenced to 14 years for attempted child abuse.
The family's story has been told many times in many courts over six years, but in the end, the ordeal to find justice in 2011 death of "the girl in the box" ended the way it all began. With responsibility.
Ame’s family thought padlocking her in a footlocker was the best way for her to take responsibility when they said she took food and lied about it. On the day she died, she’d been accused of taking a Popsicle without permission.
Because of such twisted reasoning, five adults who were supposed to care for her have now been convicted of murder, child abuse, or both. John Allen's trial, like those before, was heart-wrenching and disturbing.
Ame, who weighed just 59 pounds only three weeks before her 11th birthday and measured 48 inches in height, died in a plastic storage tub 31 inches long. It was July 11, 2011, and the tub was put in a room with no air conditioning.
The thermometer never dipped below 95. John and Sammantha Allen, went to bed, planning to check on her. They didn’t. They took responsibility, but disregarded it.
The next morning, Ame’s lips were blue. It took half an hour before somebody in the squalid, overcrowded house near 35th Avenue and Broadway Road, overrun by cockroaches and stinking of urine, called 911. Ame died of suffocation, complicated by heat exhaustion and dehydration, the autopsy later showed. She cooked in the box.
In a videotaped interview with police, John Allen explained that he put Ame in the box, but Sammantha said the girl could get out. So, he says on the tape played for the jury, he went to the backyard, took a padlock off the fence, and locked the footlocker with Ame inside as Sammantha watched.
When police arrived, kids told them one of the younger children in the house, which held as many as 24 people at one time, locked Ame inside the box during a game of hide-and-seek. The younger girl liked to lock things and giggle.
The Allens later repeated this story. John Allen penned his thoughts in his own, clear, handwriting the morning of July 12, 2011, in a spiral notebook that police found. “Ame found passed away in box. They (the kids) were playing hide-and-go-seek. We believe she fell asleep and suffocated,” he wrote.