Man Charged with First-Degree Murder in Death of Madeline Soto: Trial Date Set for Stephan Sterns

Osceola County, Florida – Stephan Sterns faces charges in the murder of 13-year-old Madeline Soto, whose body was discovered nearly two months after her disappearance in Osceola County. Sterns, the boyfriend of Madeline’s mother Jennifer Soto, was indicted for first-degree murder. According to court records and officials, the indictment alleges that Sterns killed Soto between February 25 and February 27, 2024. Her body was found on March 1, days after she was reported missing.

Madeline Soto, known as “Maddie,” was reported missing on February 26 when her mother went to pick her up from school but was informed that she had not been present in class. It is believed that Soto never reached school that day. Authorities have not disclosed details regarding the circumstances of Maddie’s death, including the findings of her autopsy, citing the ongoing investigation.

During a press conference, Kissimmee Police Chief Betty Holland revealed that evidence suggests an individual entrusted to protect Madeline took deliberate actions to dispose of her belongings and hide her body in a wooded area before she was reported missing. Florida State Attorney Andrew Bain stated that Sterns would have his initial court appearance soon and currently faces the sole charge in Soto’s death.

Prosecutors are considering seeking the death penalty for Stephan Sterns, pending a trial. Bain mentioned that various factors need to be considered before making a final decision on pursuing the death penalty. Additionally, there are no plea agreements currently on the table, indicating an open and ongoing case.

Stephan Sterns is also facing over 60 charges, including sexual battery, lewd and lascivious molestation, and possession of child pornography in a separate case. Arrested by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office on February 28, Sterns voluntarily provided his cell phone to law enforcement, leading to the discovery of alleged photos and videos of child sex abuse material.

The State Attorney’s Office revealed that the case against Sterns suggests potential abuse of Maddie dating back years before her disappearance. Court documents pointed to Sterns as the primary suspect in Maddie’s case, highlighting the complexity of the investigation into her death. Despite the initial trial date set for May 13, a continuance was granted with a pre-trial hearing scheduled for July 10 and the jury trial rescheduled for August 19.

Sheriff John Mina of Orange County previously stated that Maddie was last seen on the morning of February 26 when Sterns dropped her off at school. After her body was found in Osceola County, the investigation transitioned to a suspected homicide case, with the main focus now under Kissimmee Police’s jurisdiction. Sheriff Mina suggested that Maddie likely never made it to school on the day of her disappearance and was possibly deceased.

As the investigation continues, officials remain committed to seeking justice for Madeline Soto. The case has raised questions about the events leading up to her death, shedding light on the tragic circumstances surrounding her disappearance and murder.