JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Missouri teenager who told authorities she wanted to know what it felt like to kill on Tuesday pleaded guilty to murder, telling a judge that she strangled her 9-year-old neighbor with her hands and slashed her throat with a knife.
Alyssa Bustamante pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the Oct. 21, 2009, killing of Elizabeth Olten in St. Martins, a rural town just west of Jefferson City.
At Tuesday's hearing, Bustamante looked down, her long brown hair covering her eyes, as the judge read out the amended charges and asked her if she understood she was giving up her right to a trial. She replied, "yes."
Judge Pat Joyce then asked Bustamante to describe what she did.
"I strangled her and stabbed her in the chest." Bustamante said, looking straight at the judge.
"Did you cut her throat too?" the judge asked.
"Yes" Bustamante responded.
Bustamante, who will turn 18 on Jan. 28, told the judge that she knew what she was doing at the time.
Bustamante said she used a knife to cut Elizabeth's throat and then strangled the girl with her hands. This confession prompted a sharp, audible intake of breath from Elizabeth's tearful mother who sat in the courtroom just a few feet away.
Bustamante, who was 15-years-old at the time of the attack, had been charged with first-degree murder and was supposed to stand trial starting Jan. 30.
Instead, sentencing was set for Feb. 6.
The plea deal does not include any agreement on a possible sentence. Bustamante could face between 10-30 years to up to life in prison for the murder charge and 3 years up to life for armed criminal action.
At a November 2009 hearing, prosecutors said Bustamante plotted Elizabeth's death, even digging two holes to be used as graves, then attended school for about a week while waiting for the right time to kill. They said Bustamante strangled Elizabeth without provocation, cut the girl's throat and stabbed her.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. David Rice testified that the teenager confessed to the slaying and led authorities to Elizabeth's body. Rice said Bustamante had told him "she wanted to know what it felt like" to kill someone.
Hundreds of volunteers searched for two days for Elizabeth before her body was found.
Juvenile justice officials testified that Bustamante had attempted to commit suicide in 2007 and had been receiving mental health treatment for depression and cutting herself.
Witnesses at Bustamante's adult certification hearing described her as a bright girl who ranked roughly in the top third of her class at Jefferson City High School. She had not been in trouble at school or with the law before her arrest in Elizabeth's killing.