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Governor plans to sign juvenile parole bill day after Bustamante hearing

FILE - Gov. Mike Parson speaking during his final state of the state address.
FILE - Gov. Mike Parson speaking during his final state of the state address.


Gov. Mike Parson plans to sign a bill that will change the parole eligibility for some people in jail that committed murder when they were children.

The governor's office said that he plans to sign SB 754 on Tuesday with a slew of other bills. The timing, though, leaves Alyssa Bustamante eligible for a parole hearing on Monday, where she could secure early release from the parole board for killing 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten in Cole County.

Bustamante's parole eligibility became the subject of legislative attention in 2021. State lawmakers that year passed a bill that allowed people in prison on crimes they committed as children to become eligible for parole after 15 years of their sentence. The change excluded anyone convicted of first-degree murder of capital murder. Bustamante, however, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2012 and received a life sentence with the possibility of parole. While she would have first been eligible for parole in 2044, the 2021 law shortened that timeframe.

A provision in SB 754, a large package of crime-related measures, would exclude anyone convicted of second-degree murder from getting the earlier parole eligibility. Olten's family and the Cole County Prosecuting Attorney's Office had hoped Parson would have signed the bill sooner to effectively nullify Monday's parole hearing. Gov. Parson's office did not return a message asking if he would move the signing of the bill up.

The parole hearing does not guarantee Bustamante an early release. The panel will discuss with Bustamante, now 30, her time in the Chillicothe Correctional Center and review any programs she's completed. The panel will also hear from Olten's family, including her mother, Patty Preiss. The parole board's website said it often takes them 8-12 weeks to make a decision after the hearing. The board can either set an early release date or set another parole hearing in another 1-5 years.

SB 754 would go into effect on August 28. Anji Gandhi, senior assistant prosecutor in Cole County, said signing the bill before the hearing could still affect Bustamante's eligibility. The hearing still needs to take place because the bill has not been officially signed. Without the change, Bustamante officially becomes eligible for release on parole in October, when she was first taken into custody 15 years ago. Gandhi said with the bill signed before Tuesday, those that opposed Bustamante's release could simply say she was ineligible for release rather than present evidence.

"With the fix going into effect August 28, she becomes ineligible in October and could not be released regardless of the board vote," Gandhi said.

SB 754 also contains "Blair's Law," which criminalizes celebratory gunfire, and several other court and crime changes.

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Lucas Geisler

Lucas Geisler anchors 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.. shows for ABC 17 News and reports on the investigative stories.


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