By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona prosecutors said on Monday they will seek the death penalty against a couple accused of killing their 10-year-old cousin by locking the girl in a storage bin as punishment for taking a popsicle without permission.
John and Samantha Allen, both 23, have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit child abuse and multiple counts of felony child abuse stemming from the July 12 suffocation death of 10-year-old Ame Deal at her Phoenix home.
The Allens, who are married, remain in custody on $1 million bond each. The wife's attorney declined comment on Monday. The husband's lawyer could not immediately be reached.
Ame's body was found inside a hinged plastic container at the home in what family members initially said was a hide-and-seek game gone terribly wrong. But authorities said that story quickly unraveled as police investigators discovered that her relatives had lied to cover up their actions.
Police said the Allens, who had been left in charge of the girl, forced her to perform intense physical exercise as discipline for stealing the frozen treat from the freezer, then ordered her to retrieve the storage bin and climb into it. They said Samantha Allen watched as her husband locked the girl in the box, and the couple then fell asleep.
Ame's lifeless body was found in the box the following morning.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a court filing that the alleged crimes warrant the death penalty considering the young age of the victim and that the murder was committed in an "especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner."
Montgomery declined further comment through a spokesman because the case is ongoing.
The girl's aunt and legal guardian, Cynthia Stoltzmann, who is Samantha Allen's mother, also has been charged with multiple counts of child abuse in the case, along with the child's grandmother, Judith Deal, 73. Both women have pleaded not guilty and remain held on $500,000 bond each.
Police have said that neither Deal nor Stoltzmann was present at the time Ame was locked in the box.