Bustamante Sentencing Hearing Begins
JEFFERSON CITY - More than 10 witnesses testified Monday in the first day of the Alyssa Bustamante sentencing at the Cole County Courthouse. At 9 a.m., Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Richardson called his first witness on behalf of the state--Patty Preiss, the mother of victim Elizabeth Olten.
Preiss recounted Oct. 21, 2009, the day her daughter went missing. She said Elizabeth and her brother Anthony had just returned from school when Bustamante's younger sister Emma rang the doorbell, asking Olten to play. Olten's mother said she hesitated, as she was making dinner, but agreed to let her go under one condition--that she be back by 6 p.m. The last image Olten's mother remembers of her daughter, she said, was "a happy little girl."
In a statement she made directly to Judge Patricia Joyce, Preiss said, "I will just say that I hate her. I hate everything about her. What I hate most of all is what everyone say about her age. The only thing her age makes is an evil monster." At this, the defense objected and asked the judge to ask witnesses not to name-call. Preiss finished, "Eight times she stabbed my child. In her own words: ‘it was amazing and enjoyable.' She threw her in a hole and covered her in dirt like she was nothing. But she was something to me."
The next two witnesses to testify were Preiss's other children, Anthony Olten--who was 13 when Olten went missing--and Stephanie Adrian, Olten's older sister who has a son and daughter of her own. Anthony Olten said he had been playing video games at his house with Bustamante's two younger brothers, Nathaniel and Joseph Bustamante, when Emma had come over to ask if Elizabeth Olten wanted to play. He said when his sister did not return, he looked for her unsuccessfully. He said he recalls seeing Bustamante walking Emma up the hill from the woods and heard Bustamante say to Emma, "Don't tell anyone."
Witnesses following Adrian included Sean McDermott, an FBI special agent, who participated in the Oct. 22, 2009 interrogation of Bustamante. He said she seemed "lucid, not standoffish at all." Bustamante initially escorted McDermott to a shallow grave, which she had admitted to digging "because she liked to dig holes." FBI agent Trisha Gentry followed McDermott's testimony. She attested to searching Bustamante's room on Oct. 22. In the room, she said there were letters on the wall that were "of concern." Gentry was one of two special agents who discovered Olten's body in another shallow grave down the road from both girls' houses. She said, "At the time, my daughter was around her age." Choking back tears, she said, "I helped dig her out of that grave. It was very difficult. " As she made her testimony, Gentry observed a picture of Olten's body that had been projected and displayed on a poster. These pictures were not in view of the media, as they had not been entered officially into evidence.
Gentry and subsequent witnesses, Sergeant David Rice with Missouri State Highway Patrol and handwriting analysis Don Lock, examined Bustamante's diary entries. Before the first court recess, Lock read his deciphered version of Bustamante's last written diary entry dated Oct. 21, 2009, the same day Olten went missing.
The entry read as follows: "I _____ killed someone. I strangled them and slit their throat 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 "ohmygawd I can't do this" feeling, it's pretty enjoyable. I'm kinda nervous and shaky though right now. Kay, I gotta go to church now...lol."
The defense called its first witness after the lunch break--Dr. Edwin John Stone, M.D. who talked about a correlation he has determined (from analyzing epidemiological studies) between Prozac and violent side effects of the drug's usage, particularly in juvenile females.
Richardson argued Johnstone's testimony was not credibile and proceeded to call Dr. Chris Stacy, a forensic pathologist to the stand. Stacy showed the judge pictures of Olten's autopsy, detailing her stab wounds and strangulation.
Then, the defense called a witness that seemingly surprised the courtroom: Ceasar Bustamante, Alyssa Bustamante's father, who had come from prison (wearing chains and handcuffs), where he is serving three concurrent terms for felony assault. He detailed his and his ex-wife Michelle Bustamante's history of drug use and their family's extensive history of mental illness.
Lastly, the defense called up Karen Brooke, Bustamante's grandmother, who had custody of the girl at the time of the murder. Brooke described her granddaughter's character--her overprotective demeanor toward her siblings, her past suicide attempt, frequent self-mutilation by 'cutting' and the strain Michelle Bustamante's recurring disappearances had on the family.
Bustamante looked somber and showed no discernible expressions throughout the morning's testimony. She was wearing a lime green jump suit and handcuffs at the hearing. Her hair was in a messy bun, and she wore no makeup. She did not look directly at any of the witnesses, but she did eye Anthony Olten as he broke down into tears and asked Mark Richardson to read the rest of his statement to the judge.
On Tuesday, the prosecution will call a rebuttle witness--scheduled to be psychiatrist Dr. Anthony Rothschild. Richardson did not indicate whether Rothschield had worked with Bustamante directly. Testimony could end as soon as Tuesday--the soonest the judge could impose a sentence. Bustamante faces 10 to 30 years or life in prison with parole.
Two protesters stood outside the courthouse before the hearing began. Each carried signs addressed to prosecuting attorney Mark Richardson, asking why he agreed to a second degree murder charge.
"If you murder someone, you get the death sentence. That is what should have happened to her [Bustamante]," said protester Dana Smith. As a minor, Bustamante was not eligible to receive the death penalty, even if she had been tried for first-degree murder as an adult.
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