COLE COUNTY - Just four days before the three-year anniversary of nine-year-old Elizabeth Olten's murder in St. Martins, Olten's mother filed a wrongful death suit against the girl's then-15-year-old killer, Alyssa Bustamante.
The suit comes eight months after Judge Patricia Joyce sentenced Bustamante to life in prison with the possibility of parole for second-degree murder--a reduced sentence resulting from Bustamante's accepting of a plea bargain that subsequently yielded a three-day sentencing hearing in February.
The petition alleges that Bustamante's former psychiatrist, counselor and the mental health care provider--Pathways Health Care--were negligent in failing to prevent foreseeable harm to Olten. It also lists Bustamante, herself, as a defendant liable for damages.
At the sentencing hearing, lawsuit defendant and former Pathways counselor Ron Wilson testified as a defense witness, saying he worked with Bustamante both before and after her 2007 suicide attempt. Of Bustamante, he said, "Harm to self is her history, not harm to others," and that committing a homicide would have been "completely out of character." He also testified Pathways diagnosed the girl with major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. After Bustamante's arrest, he said he talked with her and "reminded her of her family's support, religious training and above all, to hang onto the fact that God loves her no matter what."
The second Pathways employee named in the suit, psychiatrist Niger Sultana, M.D., also treated Bustamante, and witnesses at the hearing testified she was responsible for prescribing the girl her Prozac medication.
KOMU 8's calls to Pathways confirmed both Wilson and Sultana no longer are employed at the clinic. A receptionist at the company's corporate offices disclosed Sultana left in January 2010--three months after Olten's murder.
This lawsuit comes two months after Bustamante's filing of a post-conviction appeal, which Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson said still is in its early stages of the legal procedure. He said a judge has granted the defense more time to file an amended motion and to obtain a transcript of testimony from the sentencing hearing. He confirmed the granting of an appeal relies on whether the court had jurisdiction, whether the defendant (now deemed a movant) had effective assistance of counsel or whether the court made a constitutional error in the case that had an impact on her guilty plea. Richardson said he could not predict a time frame in which proceedings involving the appeal would ensue, but he did confirm he has no involvement in the wrongful death lawsuit.
Bustamante's trial attorney and public defender Donald Catlett told KOMU 8 he no longer represents Bustamante. KOMU 8's calls to her new attorney, Gary Brotherton, went unreturned.