Our Opinion: A plea for just punishment, respectful reactions

Alyssa Bustamante’s plea to second-degree murder in the heinous killing of a 9-year-old neighbor has sparked community outrage and frustration.

Bustamante previously had been certified as an adult and accused of first-degree murder and armed criminal action for killing Elizabeth Olten on Oct. 21, 2009, by strangling and stabbing her and slitting her throat. Bustamante was 151⁄2 at the time.

Bustamante, who turns 18 on Jan. 28, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to the lesser murder charge, and to the armed criminal action charge.

Second-degree murder is not consistent with the facts in the case. The nature of the killing and hiding the body in a predetermined area are evidence of premeditation.

Whether the punishment will be commensurate with the despicable nature of the crime is yet to be determined. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 6-7.

A first-degree murder charge is punishable by death or by life imprisonment, without parole. Execution was not an option because of Bustamante’s age at the time of the homicide.

Second-degree murder is punishable by 10-30 years in prison, or life, with the possibility of parole.

Clearly, the lesser plea benefits the defendant with, at best, a shorter prison term or, at worst, the possibility of parole.

Already, the plea has generated much public comment, which is to be expected in a case that is both confounding and disturbing.

Some of those comments, sadly, have been both callous and inflammatory.

What we must remember is this tragic incident resulted in the death of a child and everlasting repercussions for family and friends.

In the final analysis, the entire community is left trying to understand the incomprehensible.

As we consider this case and appeal for a just punishment, let us be sensitive to the circumstances and remain respectful.

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