JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri teenager who admitted stabbing, strangling and slitting the throat of a young neighbor girl wrote in her journal on the night of the killing that it was an "ahmazing" and "pretty enjoyable" experience — then headed off to church with a laugh.
The words written by Alyssa Bustamante were read aloud in court Monday as part of a sentencing hearing to determine whether she should get life in prison or something less for the October 2009 murder of her neighbor, 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten, in a small town west of Jefferson City.
Bustamante, 18, sat silently — occasionally glancing at those testifying about her, often looking down or to the side — as law enforcement officers, attorneys and forensics experts read aloud her inner most thoughts that she had recorded as a 15-year-old high school sophomore.
The most poignant part of Monday's testimony came when a handwriting expert described how he was able to see through the blue ink that Bustamante had used in an attempt to cover up her original journal entry on the night of Elizabeth's murder. He then read the entry aloud in court:
"I just f------ 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 ahmazing. As soon as you get over the "ohmygawd 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 journal entry was presented to the judge not long after Elizabeth's mother and other relatives pleaded with Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce to impose the maximum sentence. Bustamante pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed criminal action last month and faces at most a sentence of life in prison with a chance for parole. The least she could get is 10 years.
Elizabeth's mother, Patty Preiss, described her daughter as a "happy, little girl," when she left her home about 5 p.m. after begging to go play with Bustamante's younger sister. Preiss said she told Elizabeth to be back for dinner at 6 p.m. but never saw her again.
"So much has been lost at the hands of this evil monster," Preiss tearfully said, with Bustamante sitting several feet away. "Elizabeth was given a death sentence and we were given a life sentence."
With Bustamante looking at her, Preiss said: "I hate her, I hate everything about her." The judge cut off her testimony when she described Bustamante as "not even human."
FBI agents seized the journal from Bustamante's bedroom during a search of her family's home the day after Elizabeth went missing as hundreds of volunteers scoured the rural area around St. Martin's.
Bustamante suggested to FBI and the Missouri State Highway Patrol officials that the girl had probably been kidnapped and that whoever had done so deserved to be convicted.
At one point, law enforcement officers discovered a hole in the ground in the shape of a shallow grave near Bustamante's home. They testified that Bustamante acknowledged digging it but said she just liked to dig holes. It was only later that Elizabeth's body was found concealed under leaves in another grave in the woods behind the Bustamante home.
At a hearing in 2009, Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. David Rice testified that the teenager told him "she wanted to know what it felt like" to kill someone.
Defense attorneys Monday highlighted Bustamante's troubled childhood as part of their argument about why she should receive leniency. They referred to numerous references in her journal in the two months before the murder, describing her suicidal feelings and the urge to hurt herself and others.
At one point Bustamante had written that she intended to burn down a house and kill all the occupants, but she never followed through with that. On Oct. 14, one week before Elizabeth's slaying, Bustamante had written that she was unable to use her cell phone because the charger had died, which meant she couldn't talk to anyone about the depression and rage she was feeling.
"If I don't talk about it, I bottle it up, and when I explode someone's going to die," she wrote in a journal that was read to the court by her defense attorney, Charlie Moreland.