Mo. teen charged with murder seeks to move trial

AP News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2009 4:59 PM

A Missouri teenager charged with killing a 9-year-old neighbor cannot get a fair trial in her home county because residents are biased against her, the teen's attorney said.

Alyssa Bustamante, 15, is to be tried in Cole County on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the Oct. 21 slaying of Elizabeth Olten. But her attorney wants the trial to be moved.

"The inhabitants of this county are so prejudiced against the defendant that a fair trial cannot be had in this county," public defender Jan King wrote in a change of venue motion dated Tuesday.

The Cole County prosecutor's office did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday. But Prosecutor Mark Richardson said last month that he would like Bustamante to be tried in the county seat of Jefferson City, which also is the state capital.

Bustamante has pleaded not guilty to Elizabeth's killing. But authorities say Bustamante confessed in a police interview to slaying Elizabeth because she wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone. They contend Bustamante strangled Elizabeth without provocation, stabbed her and cut her throat.

Hundreds of volunteers participated in a two-day search after Elizabeth disappeared before authorities say Bustamante led them to the fourth-grader's body in a wooded area near St. Martins, where both girls lived. The small town is just west of Jefferson City.

King cited the publicity generated both at the time of the crime and at Bustamante's indictment last month while asking Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce to transfer the case. He attached copies of online public comments made in response to news stories posted by the Jefferson City News Tribune and the New York Daily News.

Some of those comments refer to Bustamante as a "monster" and "inherently evil" and suggest she should be locked up for life. But it is not clear whether the people posting those comments live in Cole County, from where the jury pool normally would be drawn.

Besides allowing a case to be transferred to another county, Missouri law also allows a case to be tried in the county where the crime occurred with jurors who are brought in from other counties.

"Our belief is that the judge will make a decision that hopefully takes into account the demands upon the witnesses and victim's family," Richardson said last month.