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Thrill-killing Missouri teen gets life for strangling neighbor, 9

February 8, 2012 | 10:04 am

Alyssa_Bustamante_leaves_court
A Missouri teenager who was 15 when she was accused of killing her 9-year-old neighbor -- just to see what it felt like -- was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison.

The case's matter-of-fact brutality rocked St. Martins, Mo., the small town in which the killing occurred. With her freckled face, large pretty eyes and shiny auburn hair, Alyssa Bustamante resembled nothing so much as the stereotypical girl next door.

But a peek inside Bustamante's diary offered a glimpse at what prosecutors described as a coldhearted killer who showed no remorse.

Bustamante pleaded guilty to killing Elizabeth Olten by strangling her, stabbing her, slitting her throat and then wrapping the body in a blanket and concealing it in a shallow grave.

She told authorities she dug the grave several days in advance, and coaxed the child outside with an invitation to go play, according to the testimony. Bustamante also admitted telling the little girl she had a surprise waiting for her in the woods, and then pulled out a knife she had concealed in her backpack.

But some of the most chilling testimony came from words that Bustamante later used to relive the October 2009 experience. Shortly after the killing, Bustamante took to the pages of her personal diary with teen shorthand, calling the killing "ahmazing" and "pretty enjoyable" and signing off with: "gotta go to church now…lol."

Prosecutor Mark Richardson said such callousness deserved the toughest sentence possible, life without the possibility of parole. "The motive has to be the most senseless, reprehensible that could be in humankind, and that is to take a life for a thrill," he said, according to the Associated Press.

Bustamante, now 18, apologized during the sentencing hearing for what she had done: "If I could give my life to bring her back, I would. I just want to say I'm sorry for what happened. I'm so sorry."

Despite those comments, much has been made of Bustamante's seeming lack of remorse during the course of the case. The news service noted that Bustamante shed tears in court Wednesday morning -- judgment day -- for the first time since the case began more than two years ago.

But her defense team said the teenager was being treated too harshly. The defense attorneys pleaded with the court to give Bustamante a chance of being released from prison one day. Bustamante was a mentally disturbed teenager who had struggled with depression for years, they said.

Her attorneys also tried to make issue of her use of the antidepressant Prozac for several years, suggesting it helped spur her to violence.

The sentencing capped several days of testimony before Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce, and was marked by high emotions.

At one point, the slain girl's grandmother interrupted the court proceedings to shout out her preferred sentence: "I think Alyssa should get out of jail the same day Elizabeth gets out of the grave!" she said, according to the news service.

The judge ultimately handed down two terms -- life in prison for second-degree murder, plus an additional 30 years for armed criminal action. The judge ordered Bustamante to serve the life prison term first, a distinction that adds to the likelihood that the teen will spend the rest of her life behind bars.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Alyssa Bustamante, 18, is escorted from the Cole County Courthouse, in Jefferson City, Mo., on Wednesday morning. Credit: Julie Smith / Jefferson City News-Tribune

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