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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
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‘Ahmazing’ – to Kill

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) - A woman who was 15 when she wrote that it was an "ahmazing" thrill to kill her 9-year-old neighbor wants her guilty plea thrown out.

Alyssa Bustamante appeared in Cole County Court on Thursday to decide whether to set aside her guilty plea in the 2009 murder of Elizabeth Olten in a rural community just west of Jefferson City.

Bustamante, who was charged as an adult with first-degree murder, claims that the guilty plea was made under the threat of lifetime in prison without parole - the mandatory sentence for that crime.

Bustamante, who turned 20 on Tuesday, eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life with a chance of parole.

She also pleaded guilty to armed criminal action for using a knife in the murder and received an additional 30-year sentence to run at the conclusion of her life term.

Bustamante's attorney, Gary Brotherton, argued that five months after Bustamante's plea, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a separate case that juveniles cannot face automatic life sentences without possibility of parole. He said that ruling is reason to undo Bustamante's plea.

"Put another way, Alyssa's decision to plead guilty must have represented a knowing, intelligent and voluntary choice among all of the available course of action," Brotherton wrote. "It did not; her decision to plead guilty was rendered involuntary, unknowing and unintelligent by the looming specter of a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of probation or parole (LWOP). Had she known that the court could not sentence her for first-degree murder she would not have pleaded guilty."

Brotherton claims Bustamante's due process rights were violated because the original first-degree murder charge was cruel and unusual punishment, as it provided no realistic chance for release.

He also argued ineffective counsel, claiming defenders pressured Bustamante into pleading to second-degree murder without advising her of the pending case in the Supreme Court.

Prosecutor Mark Richardson told The Associated Press that the new claims have no merit.

"Generally, they're very big long shots to try to prove that somehow some bad advice caused a person to plead guilty when they otherwise wouldn't have," Richardson told the AP.

Bustamante was 15 when she lured Olten into the woods under the guise of playing, then strangled her, cut her throat and stabbed her, according to evidence presented at Bustamante's 2012 sentencing hearing. Bustamante eventually led authorities to Olten's body in a shallow grave that Bustamante had prepared days before the attack.

Bustamante wrote about the killing in her diary the night of the attack. She wrote that killing Olten was an "ahmazing" and "pretty enjoyable" experience.

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