UPDATE: A Look Inside the Bustamante Plea Hearing
JEFFERSON CITY - Cole County Judge Pat Joyce accepted Alyssa Bustamante's guilty plea to second degree murder and armed criminal action Tuesday. Bustamante had been scheduled to go to trial on January 30, 2012, where she could have faced a first degree murder charge in the killing of nine-year-old Elizabeth Olten.
A small press corp of about thirteen people was the first group allowed into the courtroom. Next, Olten's family, wearing pink and purple shirts with pictures of Elizabeth on them walked into the room. Across the aisle of the small courtroom sat Bustamante's grandmother with one family friend.
Bustamante did not look at the Olten family, but did look directly at the media. Judge Joyce asked Bustamante a series of about fifteen questions to make sure she understood the reprecussions of the guilty plea. Bustamante answered "yes" to every question, although she did have to turn to her lawyers for advice about three times.
Joyce made Bustamante describe the crime she had committed. Bustamante said, "I strangled her and stabbed her in the chest." The judge asked Bustamante if she slit Olten's throat and Bustamante responded, "Yes."
As Bustamante described the incident, the Olten family began to weep. Bustamante showed no emotion throughout the hearing.
If Bustamante had been found guilty of first degree murder by a jury, she would have automatically been sentenced to life in prison without parole. The second degree murder charge carries a lesser punishment; a minimum of ten years to the maximum life in prison with parole.
Bustamante's attorney, Charlie Moreland, said he believes the second degree charge is appropriate.
"It's the charge Alyssa took responsibility for. It's the right charge, and I think after you hear the evidence at the sentencing hearing, you'll also agree," said Moreland.
Sentencing is set for Feb. 6 and 7. The state will have six witnesses and the defense will have several witnesses testifying on Bustamante's mental health.
Moreland said he hopes to show the public and the judge the "complete picture" of Bustamante. He insisted she is a more complex person than the "girl in the green jail jumpsuit and Facebook pictures." Moreland recognized the difficult decision Judge Joyce will have to make, and the severity of the case.
"It's always very challenging and daunting to have the life a fifteen year old in your hands, to have to fight for her to have a chance at freedom in her life," Moreland said.
Cole County prosecutor, Mark Richardson and Olten's family did not speak with KOMU 8.