Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Alyssa Bustamante and the Murder of Elizabeth Olten

Juvie or Adult — Male or Female?

For a while, there was public uncertainty as to the gender of the person-of-interest.

Alyssa Bustamante
Alyssa Bustamante

Because the town was so small, Cole County Sheriff Greg White declined to give more specifics until it was decided how Bustamante was going to be tried.

"I know that it would be cathartic for the public to know exactly what happened, but the difficulty with that is, we have to maintain a prosecutable case," White was quoted in an AP report. "We're not going to contaminate jury pools or anything else."

Because she was a juvenile, there was a question whether or not she'd be tried as an adult, possible under state law which could then make her eligible for the death penalty. But Missouri has an unusual two-pronged system for dealing with young offenders, one that mirrors Canada's.

Missouri is one of 22 states using a "dual jurisdiction" system. If a suspect is found guilty, then the offender can be held until age 21, when a new hearing is held, and it is determined whether the offender has been rehabilitated or should serve the rest of the sentence.

It was ultimately decided that Bustamante would be tried as an adult. Her defense attorney Kurt Valentine expressed disappointment with the decision, saying, "We are throwing away the child and we are signing a death sentence for Alyssa. She is not going to survive her time in the Cole County jail."

As details of the murder came out, though, it became clear this was not child's play-gone-wrong.

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