Convicted child killer Alyssa Bustamante just turned 20 years old Jan. 28 and is now nearly four years into a life sentence with the possibility of parole. She is appealing her sentence.
Bustamante was sentenced in 2012 for what prosecutors called the thrill kill of a 9-year-old neighbor girl, Elizabeth Olten in October 2009.
She testified in Cole Co. Court today that when she accepted the plea agreement, she did not fully understand the current state of the law on sentencing juveniles as an adult, and would have possibly put her fate in the hands of a jury instead.
“The threat of (life without parole) as a mandatory sentence was allowed to intimidate Alyssa into accepting a guilty plea she would not have otherwise accepted,” Attorney Gary Brotherton wrote in documents filed with the Cole County Circuit Court claiming Bustamante had ineffective counsel at the time she pleaded guilty.
Brotherton told the court that two cases could have had an effect on Bustamante’s options.
Miller v. Alabama was decided in 2012 — after Bustamante was sentenced — in which the United States Supreme Court held that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders. A previous case in 2010, Graham v. Florida, ruled that life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders is unconstitutional, barring murder.
Bustamante was charged as an adult with first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole. She accepted an agreement with the prosecution that she would plead guilty to a reduced charge of murder in the second degree and armed criminal action. She was sentenced to 30 years with the possibility of parole for the murder charge, and 30 years for using a knife to kill her victim, which is ordered to run at the conclusion of her life sentence.
Brotherton asked Bustamante on the stand if she had spoken with her attorneys about legal issues.
“Yes,” she answered, “but I didn’t really understand legal issues.”
“At that time you had barely started the 10th grade?” he asked.
Bustamante’s state-appointed attorneys, Don Catlett and Charles Moreland, had each testified that she had accepted the plea agreement less than an hour after it was offered. She told the court she felt pressured to make a decision, and that she just wanted to get it over with.
“I didn’t really, couldn’t wrap my mind around it,” she said. “It was just … hopelessness.”
She confirmed that she was being treated with medication for depression and anxiety at the time, and said while being held by the county, she slept a lot and continued cutting herself.
Judge Pat Joyce has given Brotherton 30 days to send her proposed orders. She’ll make a decision after that whether to declaire Bustamante’s counsel was ineffective and order a new trial or let the current sentence stand.
Olten’s mother, Patty Preiss, was in the courtroom but declined to comment. Also present was Bustamante’s grandmother, Karen Brooke, who had custody of Alyssa when Olten was killed.
Bustamante admitted prior to her sentencing that she killed Olten by strangling her and slashing her throat. She then buried her in a shallow grave in a heavily wooded area near the girls’ homes. She had written in her diary that the experience was “ahmazing,” and later told investigators she had done it because she wanted to see what it was like to kill someone.
AUDIO: Alyssa Bustamante testifies in court (22:09)