“I just fucking killed someone. I strangled them and slit their throat and stabbed them now they’re dead. I don’t know how to feel atm.”
-Alyssa Bustamante in her diary
about the killer
Alyssa Bustamante was born on 28 January 1994 in Cole, Missouri. The beginning years of her life were difficult. Both of her parents were addicts and in frequent trouble with the law. In 2002, her grandparents took legal custody of her, as well as her three younger siblings, and moved them from California to Missouri. For a time, Bustamante seemed to adjust well, becoming a solid student in high school, earning As and Bs. She was also active in her LDS church, involved in activities within the church.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Bustamante. Friends have described her as funny and friendly, and that she enjoyed writing poetry. However, her growing fascination with death caused many of them to begin to keep their distance from her. Then, in 2007, she attempted suicide and was subsequently committed for ten days at a psychiatric hospital. It was there that she was prescribed antidepressants. Despite them, she practiced self-harm in the form of cutting, often showing her friends the scars. Interestingly, just two weeks before the murder, Bustamante’s antidepressant dosage was increased.
Bustamante’s online presence was even darker. Much of her Twitter feed was dedicated to her hatred of authority. On other social media, she noted her hobbies as “cutting” and “killing people.”Myrtil, Bianca. “The Chilling Tale of Teen Murderess Alyssa Bustamante.” Film Daily, 22 Apr. 2020, Film Daily, https://filmdaily.co/news/alyssa-bustamante/.
Bustamante was a high school sophomore, only fifteen years old, when she committed the murder of her neighbor. Later, when asked why she’d done what she did, she simply stated that she’d wanted to know what it felt like.Lieb, David. “Alyssa Bustamante Guilty: Teen Admits Killing 9-Year-Old Elizabeth Olten.” Huff Post, 12 Mar. 2012, Huff Post, … Continue reading
about the crime
On 19 October 2009, Bustamenta dug two graves near her home. Two days later, she enticed her neighbor to come out into the woods with her, telling her that she had a gift for her. Elizabeth Olten was just nine years old. Once they were away from the homes, Bustamante slit the little girl’s throat, strangled her, and finally stabbed her in the chest. When she was finished, she buried Elizabeth and covered her with mud and leaves.
Later, she wrote about the murder in her diary…Myrtil, Bianca. “The Chilling Tale of Teen Murderess Alyssa Bustamante.” Film Daily, 22 Apr. 2020, Film Daily, https://filmdaily.co/news/alyssa-bustamante/.
“I just fucking 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 amazing. As soon as you get over the “oh my god, 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 charges & punishment
Bustamante was charged with first-degree murder, and she was to be tried as an adult, due to the brutality of the crime. A conviction of this charge would result in a life sentence, with no chance of parole. However, on 10 January 2021, she accepted a plea deal in which she pled guilty to second-degree murder. The plea also allowed her to avoid a trial. It’s a conviction that carries a sentence of ten to thirty years or life with the possibility of parole.Pekarsky, Michelle. “Girl Who Wanted to Experience Murder Accepts Plea Agreement.” Fox 4, 10 Jan. 2012, Huff Post, … Continue reading
On 8 February 2012, Bustamante had a sentencing hearing. The defense argued that Bustamante’s age and mental health were both causes for the lesser sentence. They also argued that antidepressant Prozac played a part in Bustamante’s actions. Dr. Edwin Johnstone claimed that Prozac can increase violence, especially in younger females. However, the prosecution’s key witness was a psychiatrist, Dr. Anthony Rothschild, who said neither the increased dosage nor the drug itself had anything to do with her actions. During his testimony, he pointed out that the drug in question has been proven to decrease hostility and anger in those, like Bustamante, who had borderline personality disorder and major depression. The prosecution also pointed out the writings in her diary and on her social media, pointing out the deliberation and congnizant nature of her behavior.Lieb, David. “Prosecutors: Prozac No Defense for Mo. Teen Killer.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7 Feb. 2012, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, … Continue reading
She was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. The prosecutor argued for a life sentence plus seventy-one years, the additional time for each potential year that the victim lost. The defense counter-argued, stating that Bustamante’s age and suicide attempt were cause for a lesser sentence.Newcomb, Alyssa. “Teen Thrill Killer Alyssa Bustamante Could Get Paroled Some Day.” ABC News, 8 Feb. 2012, ABC News, … Continue reading
Alyssa Bustamante had a tough upbringing, particularly for the first eight years of her life. There is no question she had mental health issues, diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and depression. And she was only fifteen when she murdered Elizabeth Olten. There is definitive evidence that the juvenile brain is still undeveloped, multitudes of studies of it in connection to criminality and the subsequent sentencing of juveniles. But are any of these factors enough to explain away the brutal murder of a nine-year-old girl?
The American Bar Association has an interesting article about the juvenile brain, its functions, and how that relates to crime and sentencing. One of the most significant differences between the juvenile brain and the adult is the development of the prefrontal cortex. The chart below shows what it controls and how that is affected by a juvenile brain.Tyler, Morgan. “Understanding the Adolescent Brain and Legal Culpability.” Child Law Practice Today, 1 Aug. 2015, … Continue reading
|thinking before acting||limits on time taken|
|contemplating risks/consequences||sensation seeking in the now|
|social intelligence||lack of empathy/susceptible to peer pressure|
Personally, I don’t know what the right answer is. I believe that mental health and neuroscience are relevant. I also believe that there are certain factors that are mitigating when it comes to juvenile crime. However, there are parts of this case that are hard to attribute solely to mental health and neuroscience. Her writings, both in her diary and on her social media. Her preparation and planning, premeditated actions.
I think juvenile cases will always be difficult to understand. There is the instinct to believe the best of a child, but there are times, like this, when that instinct is wrong.
- date of birth: 28 January 2009
- crime: murder
- date(s) of crime(s): 21 October 2009
- number of victims: 1
- name(s): Elizabeth Olten, age 9
- method: strangulation, stabbing
- conviction: second-degree murder, armed criminal action
- status: incarcerated: life with the possibility of parole
|↑1||Myrtil, Bianca. “The Chilling Tale of Teen Murderess Alyssa Bustamante.” Film Daily, 22 Apr. 2020, Film Daily, https://filmdaily.co/news/alyssa-bustamante/.|
|↑2||Lieb, David. “Alyssa Bustamante Guilty: Teen Admits Killing 9-Year-Old Elizabeth Olten.” Huff Post, 12 Mar. 2012, Huff Post, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/alyssa-bustamante-guilty_n_1199993.|
|↑3||Myrtil, Bianca. “The Chilling Tale of Teen Murderess Alyssa Bustamante.” Film Daily, 22 Apr. 2020, Film Daily, https://filmdaily.co/news/alyssa-bustamante/.|
|↑4||Pekarsky, Michelle. “Girl Who Wanted to Experience Murder Accepts Plea Agreement.” Fox 4, 10 Jan. 2012, Huff Post, https://fox4kc.com/news/girl-who-wanted-to-experience-murder-accepts-plea-agreement/.|
|↑5||Lieb, David. “Prosecutors: Prozac No Defense for Mo. Teen Killer.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7 Feb. 2012, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/state-and-regional/prosecutors-prozac-no-defense-for-mo-teen-killer/article_443f402c-51c7-11e1-a926-0019bb30f31a.html.|
|↑6||Newcomb, Alyssa. “Teen Thrill Killer Alyssa Bustamante Could Get Paroled Some Day.” ABC News, 8 Feb. 2012, ABC News, https://abcnews.go.com/US/thrill-killer-alyssa-bustamante-parole-day/story?id=15538798.|
|↑7||Tyler, Morgan. “Understanding the Adolescent Brain and Legal Culpability.” Child Law Practice Today, 1 Aug. 2015, https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_interest/child_law/resources/child_law_practiceonline/child_law_practice/vol-34/august-2015/understanding-the-adolescent-brain-and-legal-culpability/.|