Madeline Soto slept in Stephan Sterns’ bed, documents say

Posted at 4:12 PM, May 17, 2024

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (Court TV) — Newly released documents are offering disturbing new details into the sexual assault that Madeline Soto suffered before she was brutally murdered.

Stephan Sterns booking Photo

Stephan Sterns was charged two days after 13-year-old Madeline Soto disappeared. (Osceola County Sheriff’s Office)

Stephan Sterns, who is alternately labeled as Madeline’s stepfather and her mother’s boyfriend, is charged with murdering the 13-year-old. He is also charged with 60 counts of child sex abuse after investigators say they found disturbing images showing Madeline being sexually abused over approximately two years.

While Madeline’s body was found on March 1, she was initially reported missing by her mother on Feb. 26. Her mother told police that when she went to pick Madeline up from school, she was told that the teen never arrived that morning and did not attend any of her classes that day.

Court TV obtained the audio from an interview that Kissimmee police did with Stephan Sterns on Feb. 27. In that interview, Sterns said that before taking Madeline to school he had offered to take her to McDonald’s, but she said she wasn’t hungry. He said that she was tired, and “She was asleep in the car most of the time, just snoozing until we got there.”

WATCH | Stephan Sterns’ Tearful Interview Before Madeline Soto’s Body Was Found

But the investigative reports from police say that traffic cameras indicate that while Madeline was in the car, she wasn’t asleep.

“Upon reviewing the security video, Detective Tagler observed Stephan’s vehicle exiting the complex with a female wearing a green sweater in the front passenger seat. The female was slumped over to her left, which is an abnormal way for a person to be seated in a vehicle.”

Detectives also noted that while Sterns told them that he had dropped Madeline off near her school at 8:40 a.m., traffic cameras showed him in the area closer to 8:10 a.m.

An interview that detectives did with Madeline’s mother, Jennifer Soto, on Feb. 28 offered new insight into the family’s life at home. Jennifer told investigators that she had been dating Sterns “on and off” for approximately seven years and that he had moved out of their home in late 2023. During the interview, Jennifer “stated while they were together they would all either sleep in the same bed or (redacted) would sleep with her when Stephan was not there. When asked if it was normal for Stephan and (redacted) to sleep together without her being there and she said yes.”

Photo of Madeline Soto

Madeline Soto was last seen on the morning of Feb. 26, 2024. (Florida Department of Law Enforcement)

The detective showed one of the photos retrieved from Sterns’ phone to Jennifer during the interview and said that Jennifer “did not want to believe [redacted] and Stephan were engaged in sexual activity” and “said she didn’t recognize anything in the picture, as if she was in denial. However, she became visibly upset.”

MORE | Murder of Madeline Soto: Piecing Together a Timeline

When investigators left Jennifer to speak to Sterns, they found him asleep in an interview room at the Sheriff’s office. He told officers that Madeline wanted the family to all share a bed and that she “always needed human contact when going to sleep. Stephan referred to it as ‘snuggling.'”

When officers asked Sterns about whether Madeline had any sexual history, Sterns said that there had been an incident involving a phone or a camera when she was much younger, “but she wasn’t scolded for it.”

Prosecutors have not yet said whether they will seek the death penalty for Sterns.