Elizabeth Olten, age 9, of rural Jefferson City was found in a shallow grave in October, 2009. Her throat had been slashed and her body bore stab wounds.
Alyssa Bustamante, a neighbor who was 15 at the time, has admitted to the crime. She has changed her plea from not guilty to guilty of murder in the second degree. She pleaded down from murder one in a deal with Cole Co. prosecutor Mark Richardson, a decision that has outraged the Olten family.
Second-degree murder carries a punishment of 10 to 30 years in prison, or life, but with the possibility of parole. Murder one would mean Bustamante would never be paroled and would live out her life behind bars. She is ineligible for the death penalty because she was a juvenile when the crime was committed.
When Bustamante entered the courtroom in a green jumpsuit and schackles, she glanced at the jury box — where the press was seated — and then at her attorneys. Her hair is much longer than it was when she was taken into custody more than two years ago … she appeared thin and pale. She held her chin high when talking to her lawyers and the judge, and showed no emotion.
Cole Co. Circuit Judge Pat Joyce asked Bustamante if she understood the charges, the plea, the implications and that the burden was on the state to prove her guilt and hand down a sentencing. Bustamante answered “Yes,” to each question, sometimes nodding her head. She only hesitated before answering “Yes” when Joyce aked “Do you understand you are waiving the right to a trial?”
“I strangled her and stabbed her in the chest,” Bustamante told the judge.
“Did you cut her throat too?,” Joyce asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
Olten’s mother and other family members sobbed, sometimes closing their eyes. They wore pink shirts that bore Elizabeth’s picture and said “Justice for Elizabeth.” Ms. Olten glanced at Bustamante and then quickly shifted her eyes away, gazing off with a blank stare. She dabbed at her cheeks with a tissue and tears rolled down her face.
“What did you use?” Joyce asked.
“A knife,” Bustamante said.
“And did you strangle her with your hands?” asked the judge.
“Yes,” she answered.
The judge entered a plea of guilty and set a sentencing date, to which Bustamante’s attorneys said they would call six or seven witnesses.
Bustamante was re-shackled and led out of the courtroom.
Security was high at the hearing; all who entered the courtroom went through three tiers of security checks with metal detectors. No one was allowed to leave the courtroom until Bustamante was off the premisis. The press was not allowed to leave until the family had left. Only one member of the Bustamante family was present, Alyssa’s grandmother, who had raised her since she was seven. She declined to comment on the case.
Bustamante’s attorneys say the second-degree murder plea, and its possible punishments, are appropriate. They say they want to show the judge the complex person Bustamante is during the sentencing hearing, that she’s not just a girl in a green jumpsuit, or the Facebook photos that have circulated the web since Olten’s death. For more, view the video with this story.