UPDATE: Judge enters not-guilty plea for 15-year-old in Olten slaying

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 | 12:08 p.m. CST; updated 1:55 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Updated at 1:38 p.m.

JEFFERSON CITY — A judge has entered a not-guilty plea on behalf of a 15-year-old-girl charged as an adult in the strangulation and stabbing death of 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten.

Alyssa Bustamante appeared briefly before a Cole County judge Wednesday, just hours after she had been certified to stand trial as an adult in the Oct. 21 slaying.

Bustamante is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action and could face life in prison without parole if convicted.

She sat shackled with her hands at her waist, expressionless except for a hard swallow as the judge read the charges to her.

On Wednesday, a Missouri grand jury indicted Bustamante on a charge first-degree murder in slaying of Elizabeth Olten.

The grand jury indictment accuses Bustamante of killing Elizabeth Olten by strangling her, cutting her throat and stabbing her on Oct. 21 — the day Elizabeth went missing.

A police officer testified earlier that a 15-year-old girl told investigators she killed a 9-year-old neighbor because she wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone, and a judge ruled the teen should stand trial as an adult.

Police testified that Elizabeth Olten did nothing to provoke the attack against her, and the teenage suspect led authorities to the girl's body after they questioned her.

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled that the slaying was vicious and the state had no adequate facilities or services to treat the suspect if she stayed in the juvenile court system.

The teen, who sat silently through the proceedings in an orange prison jumpsuit and handcuffs, was arrested on an adult charge of first-degree murder.

Hundreds of people searched for Elizabeth when she did not return home on Oct. 21 from a neighbor's house in St. Martins, west of Jefferson City.

Juvenile officers testified Wednesday that Bustamante previously considered committing suicide and had been receiving treatment for depression for a few years before Elizabeth's death.

A Missouri State Highway Patrol officer testified that Bustamante admitted to digging two holes on Oct. 16 with the intention of burying Elizabeth — a sign juvenile officers said showed the girl's killing was premeditated.

Throughout the hearing, it was assumed Bustamante committed the killing, which is a legal requirement under state law for conducting adult certification hearings. However, Bustamante's attorney objected repeatedly when attorneys tried to introduce into evidence specific details about the killing.

Juvenile defense attorney Kurt Valentine argued Bustamante would either kill herself or be assaulted and killed by others if she were placed with adults in a jail cell while awaiting trial or in a prison if convicted.

"We are throwing away the child and we are signing a death sentence for Alyssa," Valentine said. "She is not going to survive her time in the Cole County jail."

Bustamante appeared in court with straight, shoulder-length brown hair, with bangs frequently covering her eyes. Her mother and grandmother sat on one side of the courtroom. The grandmother has been Bustamante's legal guardian for about half of her life.

On the other side of the courtroom sat Elizabeth's mother, other family members and friends, some of whom wore pink shirts, which was Elizabeth's favorite color.

State juvenile officials said Missouri has no secure facilities to house female juvenile offenders and would have had to renovate a facility and create a specific supervision plan had Bustamante been kept in juvenile custody.

If convicted of first-degree murder, the teen could be sentenced to up to life in prison.

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Linda Swityk November 18, 2009 | 8:40 p.m.

Do you think she did this alone? Do you think the teacher who committed suicide the Monday after Elizabeth died, had anything to do with this? Just wondering.

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