Stephan Sterns indicted for murder of Madeline Soto

Posted at 4:19 PM, April 24, 2024

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (Court TV) — On the day he was originally supposed to appear in court on charges he sexually assaulted her, Stephan Sterns was indicted for the murder of Madeline Soto.

Stephan Sterns booking Photo

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

Soto was reported missing on Feb. 26 by Sterns and her mother, Jennifer Soto. Documents list Sterns as Madeline’s stepfather, but it’s unclear whether Sterns and Soto were married. Madeline’s body was found on March 1 in a wooded area of Osceola County. Sterns, who was the last person confirmed to have seen the teenager, was immediately arrested and charged with sexual abuse after investigators said they found disturbing evidence on his phone.

On Wednesday afternoon, State Attorney Andrew Baine announced that a grand jury had indicted Sterns on charges of first-degree murder. A first appearance on the new charges is scheduled for April 29.

Sterns has waived every hearing so far in his case and was initially due in court on Wednesday for a pretrial hearing. He waived his appearance, and hours later, the charges were filed. His trial is currently scheduled for Aug. 19, though that date will likely change.

Despite the indictment, investigators declined to offer any information about Madeline’s cause of death. Her autopsy report is sealed because of a Florida law that shields minor victims of domestic violence. At Wednesday’s news conference, officials said the investigation remains active and ongoing. Investigators refused to comment on whether any other people could be charged or whether the family was aiding in the investigation.

Baine said that his office had not yet determined whether they would seek the death penalty against Sterns.