Spring Trial Date Assigned to Key Suspect, Court Records Indicate

Madeline Soto Murder Case: Spring Trial Date Assigned to Key Suspect, Court Records Indicate

This spring, Stephan Sterns—who authorities have named as the “prime suspect” in the 13-year-old Madeline Soto’s death—will go on trial after being accused with 60 child sex offenses.

According to Osceola County court documents, Sterns, who is dating Soto’s mother and lives with her, waived his planned April 2 arraignment.

A defendant enters a guilty or not-guilty plea during an arraignment, which is when they stand before the court to accept the charges against them. Sterns declined to be arraigned in person, therefore he will not be appearing in court. Rather, a formal plea will be submitted on his behalf by his attorney.

April 24 is his next scheduled court appearance—a pre-trial hearing. In order to decide whether to move on with a jury trial, the prosecution and defense will appear before the court concurrently.

Defense lawyers can also use this as an occasion to file a variety of motions, such as a move to dismiss the charges. According to court documents, Osceola County has already scheduled a jury trial for May 13.

Detectives claimed to have discovered evidence of Sterns sexually abusing a child as early as 2019, when the girl would have been 8 years old. Despite this, Sterns has not been charged with Soto’s murder.

He was charged with 60 additional counts, including sexual battery of a minor, lewd and lascivious molestation, and possession of child sexual abuse material, after Kissimmee police found “disturbing” photos and video on his phone.

He might receive the death penalty or life in prison if convicted of the capital felony of sexual battery.

Professor David Thomas of forensic studies at Florida Gulf Coast University told NBC station WESH, “No matter what, he’s not getting out of jail.”

Though Kissimmee police investigators want to make sure their case is solid, Thomas thinks there is likely enough circumstantial evidence to prosecute Sterns with murder.

As it takes time to do a thorough forensics analysis, Thomas told WESH, “Give law enforcement and the medical examiner’s office the opportunity to do their job.” They are concerned with ensuring that justice is done, and done it right.

On February 26, Madeline Soto was last seen alive. Authorities think Sterns might have killed Soto on his way to drop her off at school.

Around 7:35 a.m. that day, Sterns was seen on camera hurling objects into a dumpster, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Her school laptop and rucksack were discovered by officials in the rubbish.

The sheriff’s office reports that Sterns was seen once more at 8:19 a.m., driving back to his apartment complex while Soto was in the car. At that point, the detectives think she was already dead.

Later, Madeline Soto’s body was discovered in Osceola County’s woods along Old Hickory Tree Road. According to officials, on February 26 in the afternoon, Sterns was sighted nearby.