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Our Opinion: Tragic case ends with just punishment, expression of remorse

The tragic case involving a murdered child and her teenage killer concluded Wednesday when a prison sentence was announced.

Alyssa Bustamante was sentenced to life imprisonment after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the Oct. 21, 2009, death of 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten. Bustamante, now 18, was 151⁄2 when she strangled, stabbed and slit the throat of the younger girl.

Cole County Presiding Judge Pat Joyce heard two days of testimony at a sentencing hearing before imposing the life term, as well as a 30-year sentence, to be served consecutively, on a charge of armed criminal action involving use of the knife.

This woeful, heartbreaking episode offers little solace, but we believe justice has been done.

Imposition of the life term — the maximum sentence for second-degree murder — is appropriate.

Bustamante had been certified as an adult and accused of first-degree murder, but the death penalty never was an option for her because of her age. The only remaining punishment option for the first-degree offense is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The parole possibility re-emerged when Bustamante pleaded guilty to the lesser murder charge. The range of punishment for second-degree murder is 10 to 30 years, or life.

Although the judge imposed the maximum term on the murder charge and a lengthy term for the armed criminal action, Bustamante will be eligible for parole after serving at least 33 years.

Prior to the sentencing, Bustamante expressed remorse to her victim’s family members who were in the courtroom.

“If I could give my life to bring her back, I would,” Bustamante said. “I just want to say I’m sorry for what happened.” She paused to compose herself, then added: “I’m so sorry.”

Courtroom observers said the statement sounded sincere.

We hope those words may aid a healing process.

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