A Missouri teenager who pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder is due in court Tuesday, where her defense attorneys are claiming that a higher dosage of the antidepressant drug Prozac could have increased her tendency toward violence.
Abandoned by her mother and missing a father in prison, Alyssa Bustamante had plunged to the depths of depression before, once overdosing on a large bottle of painkillers, slicing her skin hundreds of times and carving the word "hate" in her arm. She recovered from her suicide attempt and was prescribed an antidepressant drug.
Two years later, an increased dosage of the antidepressant Prozac might have made her more prone to do the unthinkable: strangling, slicing the throat and repeatedly stabbing a 9-year-old neighbor girl to death, Bustamante's defense attorneys suggested Monday during a sentencing hearing.
Defense attorneys were to continue presenting evidence Tuesday as they sought to persuade a judge to give Bustamante something less than the maximum of life in prison with the possibility of parole for the October 2009 slaying of Elizabeth Olten in a small town just west of Jefferson City. Bustamante, who recently turned 18, pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder and armed criminal action. She was 15 at the time of the crimes and is being sentenced as an adult.
Bustamante’s admission of guilt last month was part of a plea agreement with prosecutors who dropped the first-degree murder charge that would have sent her to prison for life without the chance of parole, FOX4 Kansas City reports. She instead agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder. The amended charge is punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison or life with the possibility of parole, according to the report.
Although Bustamante has remained largely silent in court, prosecutors are using her 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 and a typical teenage reliance on 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."
Bustamante headed off to a youth dance at her church while a massive search began for the missing girl. Bustamante's grandmother and legal guardian, Karen Brooke, was asked in court if she noticed anything different about Bustamante as they left the home that evening. She appeared a bit happier than usual, Brooke said.
Prescribed Prozac after overdose attempt
Brooke said her own daughter — Bustamante's mother — had lived a wild life of drug and alcohol abuse and had abandoned her children several times, including once not long before Bustamante attempted suicide on Labor Day 2007 by swallowing a large bottle of Tylenol and making hundreds of cuts on her arms — even carving the word "hate" in one of them.
After the suicide attempt, Bustamante was prescribed the antidepressant drug Prozac. Just two weeks before killing Elizabeth, Bustamante started taking a higher dosage, which a defense psychiatrist testified could have increased her mood swings and tendency toward violence.
"I think it was a major contributing factor" in Bustamante's slaying of Elizabeth, testified psychiatrist Edwin Johnstone, of Houston.
According to Missouri's News Tribune, Johnstone testified there are “a number of reasons (Prozac) needed to be prescribed in a very careful way.”
Some of those, the paper reported, came from “severe adverse effect” reports other doctors were filing with the federal Food and Drug Administration.
“They were showing an abundance of suicides and violent events, including homicides,” he testified — especially when prescribed to younger patients, the News Tribune reported.
Prosecutor Mark Richardson downplayed any potential role of the medication, noting the FDA never determined that Prozac may cause people to kill, according to the paper. Prosecutors also emphasized the deliberate nature of Bustamante's actions. The teen had dug a hole for a potential grave several days in advance, and on the evening of the killing, had sent her younger sister to lure Elizabeth outside with an invitation to play.
Elizabeth's mother, Patty Preiss, tearfully recalled how she had reluctantly let Elizabeth leave with an instruction to be back home for dinner but never saw her again. She pleaded with Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce to give Bustamante the maximum sentence.
"So much has been lost at the hands of this evil monster," Preiss said, with Bustamante sitting several feet away. "Elizabeth was given a death sentence, and we were given a life sentence."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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