It is as yet unknown how Elizabeth Olten died or was killed, but a 15-year-old St. Martens, Missouri, girl appeared in court Wednesday after being arrested in connection to the death of the 9-year-old. In a closed court appearance, the 15-year-old suspect, whose identity has been protected because of her age, went before a judge who would consider whether or not the girl would be tried as an adult and whether or not she would remain in custody. KMIZ in Jefferson City reported Monday that a search warrant had been issued for a house for a neighbor of Elizabeth Olten’s family. Another neighbor confirmed that the teenage suspect lived in the house.
Very few details are known about the discovery and recovery of the body of Elizabeth Olten. However, Cole County Sheriff Greg White revealed: “We were able to obtain some physical evidence and through some analysis of some of the evidence and in all honesty some written evidence, we were able to develop a person of interest. Once we reached that person and interviewed them, ultimately, they led us to where we’ve recovered Elizabeth’s body.”
White said the body had been very well hid in the woods in an area that had previously been searched.
Elizabeth Olten disappeared on October 21 about 6:15 p.m. while walking home from a friend’s house. She never made it home and by 7 p.m., because 9-year-old Elizabeth was afraid of the dark and the woods by which she walked home, the Olten family called the police. Searches had revealed nothing. It wasn’t until the suspect was interviewed that police were able to recover the body of the missing child.
According to ABC News, the suspect’s attorney, Kurt Valentine, said, “It will be the judge’s obligation to look at the individual and look at her, excuse me, look at the juvenile’s circumstances.”
Valentine also said, “I would ask that they wait, that they listen to the facts as they come out and not judge quickly. Learn about this person, learn about this child. You’re dealing with a child.”
The 15-year-old who killed or caused the death of 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten, according to her lawyer, has extenuating “circumstances.” Barring the 15-year-old being mentally challenged to the point of not knowing right from wrong, however, it would be difficult to see what kind of “circumstances” could exist that would not have the judge render the decision to have the girl tried as an adult. That the 15-year-old suspect had the wherewithal to secrete the body in the woods implies mental presence of knowledge of right and wrong, which means that Valentine might be looking toward a non-nurturing environment as a defense for his client.
And his reference to the girl as a “child” is manipulative, not factual. Fifteen years places a person developmentally in the stages of adolescence and young adulthood. The judge will no doubt order a psychiatric evaluation to determine the suspect’s soundness of mind, temperament, and mental capacity.
But where to draw the line? Not knowing the circumstances of Elizabeth Olten’s death or the manner in which she died, it is difficult to determine how the judge might proceed. And the decisions that the judge will make cannot be simple, either. A girl’s future hangs in the balance. Questions need to be answered. How was the crime committed? What were the circumstances? How should matters proceed for an adjudication to be effectively rendered? How does one protect the rights of the individual? Does society need to be protected from the suspect?
In short, how does one find justice for the death of a 9-year-old girl?