Murder Trial To Begin in Jan. for 17-Year-Old Bustamante
JEFFERSON CITY - After multiple delays, a Jan. 30 trial date has been set for 17-year-old Alyssa Bustamante, accused of first-degree murder in the 2009 killing of her nine-year-old neighbor, Elizabeth Olten. According to Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce's pre-trial order released Dec. 22, the location of the trial has been moved from the Cole County Courthouse to the United States Courthouse for the Western District of Missouri, located on Lafayette Street in Jefferson City. The order cites the location change is due to "the heightened interest in this case, the necessity of protecting the litigants and the jurors, and to ensure the integrity of the court process."
The judge has imposed strict media regulations on the trial, saying "no electronic coverage is permissible from the courthouse or its courtrooms." The media will be allocated eight seats in the courtroom and an additional eight seats in the auxiliary courtroom. The public, in accordance with the order, will be allocated 34 seats, 14 of which are available in the main courtroom and are to be designated each day based on applications submitted to the Cole County Courthouse by Jan. 20.
Bustamante has been held at the Cole County Jail since August of 2010 and will stand trial as an adult. KOMU 8 News did contact her public defender, Donald Catlett, but he declined to comment on the trial beyond what is stated in the judge's order. He did confirm that he expects opening arguments to begin Jan. 30, but said it is hard to tell whether the trial will span longer than the estimated 10 days. He also confirmed jury selection will take place the week before in Springfield due to an approved request for a change of venue.
In June 2011, the prosecution lost what could have been a crucial piece of evidence in dispelling Bustamante's not-guilty plea. Joyce suppressed Bustamante's confession after determining Juvenile Officer Tobie Meyer participated in the initial Highway Patrol interview of Bustamante and used "deceptive tactics" in encouraging Bustamante to confess to the murder. In the order to suppress the confession, Joyce wrote, Meyer's participation in the interrogation "went far beyond her statutory role as a juvenile officer, which is limited to observation and protection of the juvenile's rights."
Since Bustamante was in juvenile custody at the time of the interrogation, statements disclosed to Meyer were not to be admissible in an adult criminal proceeding. Had Mayer not participated, Bustamante's statements to Highway Patrol Sgt. David Rice could have been valid for use in trial, according to an original assertion in the court order to suppress evidence. At a Nov. 2009 hearing in which Bustamante was certified to stand trial as an adult, Rice testified Bustamante confessed to stabbing and strangling Olten, citing she "wanted to know what it felt like" to kill someone. Rice also said it was Bustamante who led authorities to Olten's well-concealed body, found in the woods near her home in St. Martins on Oct. 23, 2009, two days after she had gone missing while walking home from a neighbor's house.
Prosecutors filed suggestions on Aug. 12, 2010 for DNA testing of a knife and jeans found at the crime scene and seized by authorities as evidence. In Aug. 2011, Richardson and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Anji Gandhi informed the court in a motion hearing that evidence testing would not be completed for another six weeks. This information thereby delayed the trial set for Sep. 13, 2011.
KOMU 8 News placed calls to Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Richardson, all of which went unreturned. Cole County Sheriff Greg White was reached for comment, but said he no longer can comment, as the case has been turned over to the prosecuting attorney. White was part of the team responsible for searching and eventually discovering Olten's body.
The Olten family has not spoken to the media, and family friend and spokesperson Pam Cafourek could not be reached for comment. In an interview with KOMU on Oct. 19, 2011, in light of the two-year anniversary of Olten's death, Cafourek said, "We have the faith that we will get a murder conviction."
Cafourek previously described Olten as "your normal nine-year-old--full of life, full of dreams. She was an excellent student, and she loved to read." If convicted of Olten's murder, Bustamante faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Catlett declined to say whether Bustamante will testify.