Twenty-one months after accepting her guilty plea and sentencing Alyssa Bustamante to life in prison plus 30 years, Cole County Presiding Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce on Friday will listen to arguments on a motion to set aside Bustamante's conviction and sentences.
Bustamante was 15 on Oct. 21, 2009, when - she later admitted - she strangled and stabbed neighbor Elizabeth Olten, 9, then cut her throat.
Just four weeks after the murder, Circuit Judge Jon Beetem certified Bustamante as an adult, allowing the case to go to the open-to-the-public circuit court system rather than keeping it in the closed juvenile system.
Within two hours of her certification, a Cole County grand jury indicted Bustamante on first-degree murder and armed criminal action charges.
As preparations continued for a jury trial, Bustamante - then 18 - pled guilty in January 2012 to a second-degree murder charge and, after a sentencing hearing in February, Joyce sentenced her to life in prison for the murder, plus 30 years for the armed criminal action charge - to be served consecutively.
Her new attorney, Gary E. Brotherton of Columbia, argued that Bustamante was denied her constitutional right to due process "when the trial court allowed the State to charge her with first degree murder, which provided only for a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of probation or parole (LWOP) and precluded any of the considerations required for a constitutionally proportional sentence."
Although her life sentence on the second-degree murder charge allows for parole to be considered, Brotherton said Joyce's ordering the sentences to be consecutive deprived Bustamante of "any realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of her sentence."
Brotherton also said Bustamante's lawyers - public defenders Donald Catlett and Charles Moreland - provided the teen with ineffective counsel because they advised her to plead guilty to second-degree murder.
He called that decision a rush to judgment, since Catlett and Moreland knew the U.S. Supreme Court was considering a case from a different state involving a mandatory life without parole sentence for a teen convicted of murder.
And, Brotherton said, Moreland and Catlett failed to challenge Beetem's certification order, when they should have tried to get the case moved back to the juvenile court system.