JEFFERSON CITY — Prosecutors trying to debunk a key defense theory about why a Missouri teenager killed a 9-year-old neighbor girl relied on the testimony Tuesday from a psychiatrist who said an antidepressant drug played no role in the teen's decision to murder.
Dr. Anthony Rothschild was the main prosecution witness in the second day of the sentencing hearing for Alyssa Bustamante, who has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of Elizabeth Olten in a small town just west of Jefferson City.
The young girl was stabbed, strangled and had her throat cut before being buried in a grave that Bustamante admitted she dug before the October 2009 murder. Bustamante, who recently turned 18, was 15 at the time of the crimes and is being sentenced as an adult. She faces a possible sentence of 10 years to life with possibility of parole.
Bustamante's defense attorneys have attempted to build a case that her troubled childhood and the increased dosage of the antidepressant Prozac heightened her mood swings and made her more prone to violence in the weeks leading up to Elizabeth's murder.
But Rothschild said it was "nonsense" to try to suggest that Bustamante was taking too much Prozac, which he said had been proven to decrease hostility and anger in people who, like Bustamante, suffer from major depression and a borderline personality disorder.
"There is no reliable evidence in the medical and scientific literature that Prozac causes people to commit murder," said Rothschild, a psychiatrist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School who has testified in numerous court cases against claims that Prozac causes suicides or homicides.
Rothschild's testimony was a rebuttal to that given Monday in Cole County Circuit Court from Edwin Johnstone, a psychiatrist from Houston who said that Prozac can lead to greater instances of violence, particularly in young females.
Johnstone testified that Prozac was "a major contributing factor" in Bustamante's slaying of Elizabeth.
Also during testimony Monday, Bustamante's grandmother described how the teen had tried to commit suicide on Labor Day 2007 by swallowing a large bottle of Tylenol pills and slicing herself hundreds of times — even carving the words "hate" and "pain" into her arms.
On Tuesday, defense witnesses recounted Bustamante's long history with cutting herself, which was first noticed at the start of her eighth grade year in the Jefferson City school district.
A nurse from the University Hospital who examined Bustamante while the teen was in jail last November testified that she had documented well over 300 scars from intentional cuts on Bustamante's arms, legs and torso. Among those still visible scars were a peace sign, two broken hearts and the word "hate," which Bustamante had carved into herself, said nurse Alyssa Neitzert.
Bustamante's body also showed signs of a self-inflicted burn mark, bite, and an attempt to pierce the skin underneath her lips, Neitzert said.
Prosecutors have emphasized the deliberate nature of Bustamante's actions and downplayed any impact from Prozac. They noted that Bustamante dug a hole for a potential grave several days in advance, and on the evening of the killing, sent her younger sister to lure Elizabeth outside with an invitation to play.
They cited Bustamante's written words against her to urge a long prison sentence. In a journal entry on the night of the killing, Bustamante described the slaying of Elizabeth with a sense of exhilaration, using texting-style acronyms.
"I strangled them and slit their throat and stabbed them now they're dead," Bustamante wrote in her journal, which was read in court by a handwriting expert. "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."