Prozac may have set off teen killer, defense team says — (NBC News)

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NBC News

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 Feb, 2012

 By msnbc.com staff and news services

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.”

 

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Bustamante defense

By Jeff Haldiman, Bob Watson, The Fulton Sun

Monday, February 6, 2012

Alyssa Bustamante’s prescription for Prozac may have helped lead her to killing Elizabeth Olten, 9, a consulting psychiatrist testified Monday afternoon.

Bustamante, now 18, was 15 1/2 when she strangled, stabbed and slit Olten’s throat on Oct. 21, 2009.

The teen pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Jan. 10.

Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce is hearing evidence this week to help with her sentencing decision.

Bustamante could receive up to life in prison, with the possibility of parole.

Dr. Edwin Johnstone, retained as a consultant by Bustamante’s public defenders, told Joyce that Prozac and several similar drugs were developed in the early 1980s, then introduced to the medical profession later in the decade.

But, after helping Eli Lilly — Prozac’s maker — teach doctors about the drug and its uses, as well as prescribing it to his own patients, Johnstone testified he began finding “a number of reasons it needed to be prescribed in a very careful way.”

Some of those came from “severe adverse effect” reports other doctors were filing with the federal Food and Drug Administration and with Lilly.

“They were showing an abundance of suicides and violent events, including homicides,” he testified — especially when prescribed to younger patients.

Johnstone also testified that Bustamante received several different dosages of the drug over a two-year period — including an increase to a higher dosage than ever before, only two weeks before the murder.

Prosecutor Mark Richardson noted the FDA never has determined that Prozac cause people to kill.

The journal that Alyssa Bustamante kept was the focus of much of the first day of testimony during the sentencing hearing Monday for the October 2009 killing of 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten.

Bustamante, now 18, pleaded guilty Jan. 10 to second-degree murder for the Oct. 21, 2009, killing. Two days of hearings have been scheduled before Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce imposes a sentence, which could be up to life in prison with a possibility of parole.

Don Lock, a forensic consultant, was called by Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson to talk about his findings when examining Alyssa’s journal.

Lock said he had been asked to determine whether it was Alyssa who wrote in the journal and to also try and see if he could determine what was under some obliterated text on the last entry of the diary, Oct. 21, 2009, the day Elizabeth was murdered near her home in St. Martins.

Lock said his findings concluded that it was Alyssa who did write the journal.

Using an ultraviolet light and camera, Lock said he was able to see what was under the obliterated portion.

“I just “f–king” killed someone,” Lock said was written in that portion. “I stabbed them. I slit their throat. I strangled them. It was ahmazing.”

Prior to this testimony, Elizabeth’s family members gave statements about what Elizabeth meant to them and how they hoped Cole County Presiding Judge Pat Joyce would give Bustamante the maximum sentence.

Patty Preiss, Elizabeth’s mother, wept on the stand, while looking at pictures of her daughter and talking about how she would never get to enjoy graduating school, or get married or have children of her own.

“From what she has written, stabbing my little girl eight times, she is not a child, she is a monster,” Preiss said.

Elizabeth’s older brother and sister gave similar testimony.

Testimony was expected to continue through the afternoon Monday and again on Tuesday.

 

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Prozac part of Bustamante defense — (The Fulton Sun)

By Bob Watson, The Fulton Sun

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Alyssa Bustamante’s prescription for Prozac may have helped lead her to killing Elizabeth Olten, 9, a consulting psychiatrist testified Monday afternoon.

And Bustamante’s grandmother told Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce she was worried about Alyssa’s mood swings as her dosage changed several times.

Karen Brooke has been the teen’s legal guardian for nearly 11 years.

She told Joyce on Monday the girl had an emotional roller-coaster childhood as her mother and father — both regular drug users — popped into, then out of, her life.

Alyssa was “a very quiet child” who one time had witnessed her mother passed out on the floor from a drug overdose, while the family still lived in the state of California — and later acted like her younger, twin brothers’ mother when Brooke also gained the boys’ guardianship.

As she entered eighth grade in 2007, Brooke said, school counselors recommended Bustamante, then 13, get professional counseling after the girl’s friends reported the teen was cutting herself.

 

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Alyssa Bustamante sentenced to life in prison for killing 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten — (Missouri News Tribune)

“If I could give my life to bring her back, I would,” confessed killer Alyssa Bustamante said Wednesday morning as she faced the family of her victim in a Cole County circuit court room.

“I just want to say I’m sorry for what happened,” she said, then paused to compose herself. “I’m so sorry …

“If I could take this back, I know I would.”

Bustamante’s comments came moments before Cole County Presiding Judge Patricia Joyce ordered the teen to serve life in prison for the second-degree murder conviction and another 30 years in prison — to begin after the life sentence is finished — for the armed criminal action conviction. She does have the possibility of parole with the sentencing.

Bustamante, now 18, was 15 1⁄2 when she killed Elizabeth Olten, 9, on Oct. 21, 2009. She pleaded guilty to both charges Jan. 10.

Elizabeth’s family members wept as Alyssa made her statement before hearing Joyce impose the sentences.

Elizabeth’s mother, Patty Preiss, who earlier called Bustamante “an evil monster,” sat silently, staring forward during Bustamante’s apology.

“If I could give my life to bring her back, I would,” those are the words from Alyssa Bustamante to the family of her victim, Elizabeth Olten, prior to Bustamante receiving a life sentence in prison for the killing that took place in October 2009.

“I just want to say I’m sorry for what happened,” she paused to compose herself, “I’m so sorry.”

Elizabeth’s family members wept as Alyssa made her statement prior to the sentence handed down by Cole County Presiding Judge Patricia Joyce.

Elizabeth Olten is shown in a family photograph. Olten was killed Oct. 21, 2009, when she was 9 years old, by 15-year-old neighbor Alyssa Bustamante.

The sentence for Bustamante is one life sentence for the count of second-degree murder and 30 years on the count of armed criminal action. The sentences will run consecutively. She does have the possibility of parole with the sentencing.

ADDITIONAL COVERAGE FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Mo. teen gets life with possible parole in killing

By DAVID A. LIEB, Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A central Missouri teenager who confessed to strangling, cutting and stabbing a 9-year-old girl because she wanted to know how it felt to kill someone was sentenced Friday to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Alyssa Bustamante, 18, pleaded guilty in January to second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the October 2009 slaying of Elizabeth Olten in St. Martins, a small rural town west of Jefferson City.

Bustamante had been charged with first-degree murder and by pleading guilty to the lesser charges she avoided a trial and the possibility of spending her life in an adult prison with no chance of release.

Bustamante was 15 years old when she confessed to strangling Elizabeth, repeatedly stabbing her in the chest and slicing the girl’s throat. She led police to the shallow grave where she had concealed Elizabeth’s body under a blanket of leaves in the woods behind their neighborhood.

The teenager’s defense attorneys had argued for a sentence less than life in prison, saying Bustamante’s use of the antidepressant Prozac had made her more prone to violence. They said she had suffered from depression for years and once attempted suicide by overdosing on painkillers.

But prosecutors sought a longer sentence. They noted that Bustamante had dug two graves several days in advance, and that on the evening of the killing had sent her younger sister to lure Elizabeth outside with an invitation to play. Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. David Rice testified that the teenager told him “she wanted to know what it felt like” to kill someone. Prosecutors also cited journal entries in which Bustamante described the exhilaration of killing Elizabeth.

“I strangled them and slit their throat and stabbed them now they’re dead,” Bustamante wrote in her diary, 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 then headed off to a youth dance at her church while a massive search began for the missing girl.