By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Two relatives of a Phoenix girl who died after she was locked in a storage container have been indicted on murder charges, and two other family members face accusations of child abuse, authorities said on Wednesday.
Ten year-old Ame Deal's cousin, Samantha Allen, and her husband, John Allen, are charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy and multiple counts of felony child abuse in connection with the suffocation death of the girl last month.
They are accused of punishing the girl for stealing a Popsicle out of the freezer by locking her in the container.
The girl's grandmother, Judith Deal, 72, and Cynthia Stoltzmann, 44, the child's aunt and legal guardian, face multiple counts of felony child abuse in the indictment made public on Wednesday.
Those two women were not at the home when the girl was locked in the box, authorities said.
She was found inside the container on July 12, in what police initially were told was a case of hide-and-seek gone tragically wrong. Police said that turned out to be a lie.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said prosecutors will aggressively pursue the "horrific case."
"It offends the essence of what it means to be a parent or guardian of a young child," Montgomery said in a prepared statement. "Instead of caring for Ame Deal, we are alleging that these family members utterly failed her."
The Allens have been in custody in lieu of a $1 million bail each since their arrest last month. Judith Deal and Cynthia Stoltzmann are each in jail on $500,000 bond.
The girl lived with the four relatives and others.
Authorities said that after Ame Deal took the Popsicle, the Allens disciplined her by making her perform strenuous exercises. She then was allegedly forced to retrieve the container and climb into it.
Samantha Allen watched as her husband padlocked the hinged, plastic chest to punish the girl and both then fell asleep, police said.
Ame Deal was found dead in the box, wearing soiled clothes, the following morning.
Attorneys for the Allens did not return calls, and a lawyer for Deal and Stoltzmann could not be reached for comment.
Investigators found the four relatives had for, at least a year, abused the child. That included punishing her for bed-wetting by making her sleep in the shower without a blanket or pillow, authorities said.
(Edited by Alex Dobuzinskis and Peter Bohan)