Prime suspect in Madeline Soto case waives court appearance after missing teen’s body found

Spread the love

Stephan Sterns, the man named by Central Florida authorities as the prime suspect in the disappearance and death of 13-year-old Madeline Soto, waived his first appearance in Osceola County court.

Sterns, 37, described as the boyfriend of Soto’s mother, was instead represented solely by his attorney, who said that they knew what he was being charged with. The judge granted Sterns no bond amount. News 6 is working to learn what new charges Sterns may be facing.

Madeline’s body was found on Friday in Osceola County by authorities searching the woods off Hickory Tree Road, some four days after her mother reported the 13-year-old was missing.

Sterns — who law enforcement noted ahead of his arrest on Wednesday was the last person to have seen Soto — was named the prime suspect in her disappearance after interviews with investigators led detectives to disturbing pictures and videos on his cellphone, prompting charges against Sterns of sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material. Sterns initially told investigators he “accidentally” performed a factory reset on his phone the same day Soto was reported missing.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which worked in conjunction with Kissimmee police to make Sterns’ arrest ahead of his transfer to Osceola County, said the crimes depicted in the images and videos were committed at the family home in Kissimmee. The Kissimmee Police Department was promptly notified, going on to take the lead on the sexual battery case.

At a news conference Friday, held before the discovery of Soto’s body was announced, Orange County Sheriff John Mina said investigators already believed that the 13-year-old was dead.

“Last night, detectives from the Kissimmee Police Department met with Madeline’s mother and they had to tell her the very devastating news that although we have not found Madeline, we are now confident that she is dead,” Mina said on Friday.

The girl’s mother had told Orange County deputies that Sterns dropped Soto off near Hunter’s Creek Middle School on Monday morning, yet Mina said Friday that his detectives had since determined the 13-year-old was never dropped off.

“Instead, we believe she was already dead at the time and that Stephan Sterns moved her body in the early morning hours on that day,” Mina said. “We have video evidence that shows Stephan Sterns discarding items in a dumpster in that apartment complex in Kissimmee at 7:35 a.m.”

The sheriff said around 8:19 a.m., detectives found the girl’s backpack and her school-issued laptop in the dumpster.

“We have evidence that shows Stephan Sterns returning to the complex and Madeline was visible in that vehicle. We believe she was already dead at that time,” he said. “As a result of that, although the initial missing persons investigation started in Orange County, the Kissimmee Police Department will now be taking over the investigation and will become the lead agency.”

Kissimmee police Chief Betty Holland provided the following statement

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *