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Updated May 28, 2014 - 6:06 pm

Trial postponed for couple in Phoenix girl's death

PHOENIX -- The murder trial of a Phoenix couple accused in the 2011 death of a 10-year-old relative who was locked in a small plastic trunk for hours was delayed Wednesday until early next year.

Trial for John Michael Allen and his wife, Sammantha Lucille Rebecca Allen, had been set to begin next month. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty.

Attorneys on both sides told a Maricopa County judge that they need more time to find possible mitigating circumstances and to interview witnesses. The trial was postponed until Jan. 6.

The Allens, both 25, have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges in the death of Ame Deal.

Authorities said the girl died after being padlocked in a footlocker as punishment for taking a Popsicle from a freezer.

She was left in the footlocker all night and was found dead the next morning at the Phoenix home where her relatives lived, police said.

Authorities said the footlocker was less than 3 feet long, less than a foot wide and a foot deep. The girl was about 4 feet tall and weighed nearly 60 pounds.

The Allens were among six relatives initially arrested in the case including her father David Deal, who was sentenced last June to 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted child abuse.

He acknowledged abusing the girl on several occasions between March 2010 and July 2011, including stuffing her at least once into the trunk and tossing it into a pool as punishment.

Investigators said family members heaped a range of abuse on Ame Deal from 2005 until her death, including kicking her in the face while she was on the ground, forcing her to eat dog feces, making her crush aluminum cans with bare feet and scrubbing her face with a wire brush.

Two other relatives have been sentenced in the case.

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