Confessed child killer to learn her fate
Mon, 06 Feb 2012 13:18:54 GMT —
Update: 8:15 a.m. on Feb. 8:
Alyssa Bustamante received her sentence Wednesday morning.
She was sentenced to life in prison on the 2nd degree murder charge and 30 years for armed criminal action, to be served consecutively.
Alyssa Bustamante spoke to the court on Wednesday. She told the Olten family she was sorry and if she could give her life to get Elizabeth's back, she would.
There was extra court marshal presence in the courtroom. Judge Joyce told the court that anyone who had an outburst would be removed from the courtroom.
Elizabeth Olten's family hugged after the sentence was read and looked relieved.
Update: 6:15 p.m. on Feb. 7:
Closing arguments concluded on Tuesday in the sentencing hearing of Alyssa Bustamante, who confessed last month to killing 9-year-old neighbor Elizabeth Olten.
The closing arguments were emotional for both families involved. Bustamante's grandmother ran out of the courtroom crying. Elizabeth's grandmother yelled out from a wheelchair, "Alyssa should get out of jail the same day Elizabeth gets out of the grave."
The prosecution in the case asked for Judge Joyce to sentence Alyssa Bustamante to life in prison for the murder charge with an additional 71 years for the armed criminal action. He said he got to the 71 years because Elizabeth Olten was nine when she was killed and the average life span for a woman is 80 years, so the 71 is for all the years Elizabeth lost.
Prosecuting Attorney Mark Richardson referred to the journal entry written the day Elizabeth was killed. Evidence was shown that she thought about the murder and reflected on the murder. He talked about her digging the grave five days earlier. He said all the doctors who testified agreed that she knew right from wrong. He also talked about the knife marks on Elizabeth's hands from trying to fight off Alyssa Bustamante. He said Alyssa could have stopped when she was strangling Elizabeth, but she didn't let go.
The defense attorneys started closing arguments with details of Alyssa's 2007 suicide attempt. They talked about even though she was certified as an adult, a 15-year-old is still a child and her brain and emotions were not fully developed. They said Alyssa is a severe emotionally disturbed child and while that doesn't excuse the crime, the judge should consider it while determining her sentence.
They said in Sept. and Oct. Alyssa was on a downward spiral in her treatments and Prozac wasn't helping. He called it a gathering storm that was coming on and if Alyssa would have been hospitalized in mid-October, the crime may not have happened. They did not give an exact number they wanted to see, but they wanted the judge to go along with SAR guidelines.
Judge Pat Joyce said she would make a decision sometime tonight and announce her decision when court reconvenes at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Update: 4:35 p.m. on Feb. 7:
Two more witnesses took the stand Tuesday afternoon in the sentencing hearing for Alyssa Bustamante.
Ron Wilson, the children services supervisor at Pathways Mental Health Center, saw Alyssa from Aug. 2007 through Oct. 9 in 2009. He told the court, three different therapists saw Alyssa at the center. He said switching therapists that often is not good for treatment. Wilson did the initial evaluation in 2007. He said she was admitted to the outpatient program and tried to commit suicide on Sept. 2, 2007 and went into a more intensive program.
Wilson said Bustamante and her parents cooperated during the treatment. He told the court he became her therapist in early Oct. 09. He said she was very depressed, but that homicide was completely out of her character. He said there was no indication from previous records that she would kill someone.
Wilson said Bustamante only hurt herself and had no history of hurting others.
Another mental health professional also took the stand today.
Dr. Rosalyn Schultz is a psychologist with a clinical forensic practice in St. Louis.
She looked over Bustamante's medical records and interviewed family members for 22 hours. She said from the interviews and records, Bustamante witnessed a lot of childhood drama. She told the court Bustamante's mother abandoned her and she witnessed her father abusing her mother as well as witnessing both parents drug and alcohol abuse issues which led to mental problems.
Bustamante told Schultz that when she cut herself, she couldn't feel the pain and she did it to fall asleep.
Schultz testified that the Pathway's treatment was inadequate. Schultz told the court that according to a Sept. 2009 Pathway's report said Bustamante was suicidal and she should have been hospitalized. According to Schultz, better treatment and better care could have meant more progress in her case.
Schultz said there is a link between suicide and homicide and that homicide is externalizing the actions of suicide. According to Schultz, Bustamante showed remorse when she talked with her in Dec. 2011.
Schultz said as Bustamante was being transported to jail, she broke down and cried a lot. Bustamante said she saw Elizabeth's image in her mind and had nightmares. Schultz said Bustamante told her during Elizabeth's death, she was in a dream-like state and in a sense, watched it happen.
Bustamante also told Schultz she dug two holes because it was hard to get through the roots on one, so she dug another.
Schultz testified that Bustmante said she had Emma, her little sister, go to Elizabeth's house to get her and took her into the woods saying she had a surprise. According to Schultz, Bustamante said she strangled Elizabeth first and then stabbed her.
Update: 12:25 p.m. on Feb. 7:
Four witnesses Tuesday morning took the stand.
The court first heard from a licensed psychiatrist and professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dr. Anthony Rothschild. Dr. Rothschild cited many scientific studies that found no evidence of the drug Prozac causing an increase in violence or hostility in the patients taking it. His testimony was in direct contradiction to Dr. Johnstone called yesterday by the defense.
Alyssa's middle school counselor and school nurse also testified. They both made reference to her habits of cutting and self-mutilation. The school nurse testified when the issue was brought to her attention in Aug 2007, she saw 25 cuts on her left wrist and forearm and more than 125 on the right side.
The morning's final witness was the registered nurse who looked over Alyssa's body looking for scars in Nov. 2010. The nurse showed the judge dozens of photos depicting the scars of self mutilation involving a scar from a bite mark, burn mark a scar from a piece sign carved into her skin with a staple and hundreds of linear cuts possibly made by a razor blade. The nurse said she's examined 50 cutters in her medical career and this was by far the worst case she's ever seen.
The defense has three more witnesses this afternoon before closing arguments and before Judge Joyce makes a decision on the sentencing.
Alyssa's mom was present in the courtroom, sitting with Alyssa's grandmother.
Update: Monday, Feb. 6 at 9:45pm
Day 1 of testimony in Alyssa Bustamante's sentencing hearing wrapped up at 5:40 p.m. Monday.
There were 12 witnesses, 11 of those were present and 1 was a taped video deposition.
After the lunch recess, the defense called their first witness: Dr. Edwin Johnstone, a licensed psychiatrist with 16 years of experience in clinic research of anti-depressants. Dr. Johnstone testified that fluoxetine, the generic name for Prozac, can cause adverse and severe side effects on those taking it. Dr. Johnstone said adolescences, teens and females are most at risk for the side effects including impulsiveness, insomnia, agitation, irritability, suicide and violent events.
Dr. Johnstone said although he has never had a conversation with Alyssa; through her records that he's read; he would diagnose her with borderline personality disorder. He testified that her medical records indicated an increase in her dose of fluoxetine in early October. He said after that, her diary entries became increasingly violent. Dr. Johnstone said the prescribed dosage was a "major contributing factor" in Elizabeth Olten's death.
Mark Richardson cross examined the doctor, questioning his expertise as a medical witness and calling a lack of scientific data in the research he was citing.
Richardson then called the State's 8th witness, Dr. Carl Stacy. Dr. Stacy is a forensic pathologist with the Boone County Medical Examiner's Office. Dr. Stacey said he has performed more than 3,000 autopsies, including Elizabeth Olten. Dr. Stacy showed Judge Joyce what he called "graphic" photos of Elizabeth's body when it came to their office. The doctor pointed out the physical effects of strangulation; and showed Judge Joyce where Elizabeth's throat was slit and chest was stabbed. Dr. Stacey said he couldn't say for absolute certain whether the stabbings or the strangulation happened first, but he thinks Elizabeth was strangled before being stabbed.
The Defense called their 2nd witness to the stand: Alyssa's father: Ceasar Bustamante, who is serving 10 years in prison for a felony assault conviction. Bustamante told the court he and Alyssa's mother, Michelle, who are cousins by marriage, had Alyssa when Michelle was 15 years old and they were living in California. Bustamante testified that he and Michelle were into alcohol and drugs: marijuana and meth. He told the court they moved around a lot both in California and in Mid-Missouri when they moved to Missouri in 1996. Bustamante said he has tried to stay in touch with Alyssa while he has been in prison, both through letters and phone calls. Bustamante testified mental illness runs in their family, saying he used to be a "cutter" and has attempted suicide.
Another emotional testimony was when Alyssa's Grandmother, Karen Brooke, took the stand. Brooke gained custody of Alyssa when she was 8. Brooke described Michelle as out of control with drinking and drugs. Brooke said when the moved to Missouri, Alyssa had a hard time adjusting because she was used to being a parent to her younger siblings. Brooke said things got better for a time, but then on Labor Day Weekend 2007; Alyssa tried to commit suicide by overdosing on nighttime painkillers. She was in the hospital for two weeks.
Brooke discussed the ups and down of Alyssa's mood and behavior that happened over the next two years. Brooke testified that she went through multiple counselors and therapists trying to get the right help for Alyssa, but it didn't seem to help as Alyssa was still cutting herself.
Brooke testified Alyssa's dosage of fluoxetine in early October 2009 was 40 milligrams a day, the highest she had been prescribed. Brooke said within a week, Alyssa's behavior took a turn for the worst. She started not coming home from the school bus and not eating within the family. Brooke said Alyssa's doctor had warned her the drug may take a month or so to level out. Brooke said she didn't have a chance to give the drug a month, since Elizabeth was killed on October 21st.
The final witness of the day was Dr. William Orrison, a nuero-radiologist from Nevada. Dr. Orrison's testimony was video-taped and played Monday for the court. Dr. Orrison testified the brain of a teenager is not fully developed. He said brains aren't fully formed until around 25 years of age; and until then poor decision making and issues with self control are prevalent.
The defense has several more witnesses to call on Tuesday. The prosecution is expected to call 1 rebuttal witness. KRCG will again be in the courtroom to bring you the latest.
Update: Monday, Feb. 6 at 11:51 a.m.:
Prosecuting Attorney Mark Richardson called seven witnesses to the stand Monday morning.
The first was Elizabeth Olten's mom, Patty Preiss. Patty told the judge about the afternoon when Elizabeth went missing. She said the last time she saw her was at 5 p.m. when she left to go play with Alyssa Bustamante's younger half sister Emma.
Preiss and Richardson went through a slideshow of Elizabeth's life as a happy little girl. Preiss said Elizabeth enjoyed school, got along with her peers, and enjoyed studying
Preiss read a victim's statement directly to Circuit Judge Pat Joyce calling Alyssa Bustamante an evil monster throughout. She said Elizabeth will never get the chance to be married or go to a school dance all because of "that monster Alyssa."
She asked Joyce to consider the case as if it were Joyce's child who had been murdered.
A variety of family witnesses also took the stand. Elizabeth's brother, Anthony was 13 when she was killed. He said he took his job to protect his sister very seriously. He told Judge Joyce he knew he would have to run off the boys when Elizabeth was older, but he never thought he would have to protect her from a neighbor and supposed friend.
Elizabeth's father was not in attendance at the hearing while he serves a jail sentence, but pleaded in a letter to the court for Bustamante to receive the maximum sentence.
The first law enforcement officer to take the stand was FBI agent Shawn McDermott. McDermott interviewed Bustamante at his Jefferson City office on Oct. 22, 2009. He said she was calm, collected and did not show much emotion. He said Bustamante led him to a hole in the woods behind both girls' homes. He said it was rectangular in shape.
McDermott noted that Bustamante did not act like someone who had killed within the last 24 hours.
FBI Agent Patricia Gentry also testified Monday morning. She was one of the team members who searched Bustamante's bedroom. She told the court she found the photos and writing on the walls of Bustamante's room disturbing. She also found Bustamante's journal which was collected as evidence and presented to the court.
The defense cross-examined Gentry and went through the diary entries in the weeks before Olten was killed. Defense attorneys pointed out suicidal thoughts and actions by Bustamante. They said she cut herself and referred to a silver blade and razor several times throughout the journal.
Gentry was also part of the team who dug up Olten's grave. She said there were five or six inches of dirt on top of Olten's body. Leaves covered the shallow grave and it was muddy.
She said there were marks on Olten's body and wounds to the chest. There was dried blood at the site.
Sgt. David Rice testified that Bustamante led the group to one rectangular shaped hole that appeared to have dug by hand. Another hole in which Elizabeth Olten was buried was round in shape and more hastily dug he observed. Bustamante told him she liked to dig holes in the woods and maintained her denial the entire time he spoke to her.
The final witness for the morning was Don Lock, who is a forensic consultant who specializes in handwriting analysis.
Lock examined Bustamante's journal and said it was written by one person -- Alyssa Bustamante. He was also the person who was able to recover a scratched out portion of the journal, written on Oct. 21, 2009. Lock then read the journal entry to the court.
The journal said the following: "I just (obscenity) killed someone. I strangled them and slit their throats and stabbed them. Now they're dead. I don't know how to feel ATM. It was ahmazing. As soon as you get over the â??Oh My Gawd. I can't do thisâ?? feeling it's pretty enjoyable. I'm kinda nervous and shaking though right now. Kay, I gotta go to church now LOL."
The court took a recess for lunch. The prosecution has two more witnesses, then the defense plans to call six or seven witnesses to the stand.
Alyssa Bustamante will face a sentencing hearing on Monday.
The teen, who pleaded guilty last month for the murder of her 9-year-old neighbor Elizabeth Olten, is facing anywhere from 10 years in prison to life behind bars.
She pleaded guilty to armed criminal action and an amended charge of 2nd degree murder just weeks before her scheduled murder trial. She was 15 at the time of the murder in 2009.
Elizabeth Olten's family reported her missing in October 2009 and law enforcement and community members spent several days searching for her before Bustamante reportedly led law enforcement to Olten's body in a shallow grave in the wooded area behind both girls' homes. She was arrested and certified to stand trial as an adult. She was charged with first degree murder before the charge was amended during her plea hearing.
There was reportedly a second shallow grave in the ground, but it was empty.
The scheduled sentencing hearing is expected to last two days.
*Courtroom sketches provided by Jim Dyke, Jefferson City News Tribune