Boyfriend of Madeline Soto’s mother charged with 13-year-old’s murder

Stephan Sterns is already in jail facing 60 child sexual abuse allegations

Dan Gooding
Wednesday 24 April 2024 22:29 BST
Related video: Kissimmee Police provide update on suspect in Madeline Soto’s death investigation

Madeline Soto’s mother’s boyfriend has been charged with her murder, almost two months after the 13-year-old vanished one school morning before her body was found several days later.

At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, State Attorney Andrew Bain said that a grand jury had returned the indictment against Stephan Sterns earlier that day, charging him with first-degree murder.

“For the last seven weeks, the Kissimmee Police Department and my office have been working closely to go over every piece of evidence that we could gather in this case,” Mr Bain said.

“It was voluminous and a lot of evidence to go over in that time.”

Mr Bain said that his office was considering whether to seek the death penalty against Mr Sterns, who is already behind bars charged with a string of sexual abuse counts.

The charges come after Mr Sterns pleaded for the teenager’s safe return in interviews with the media – only for law enforcement to discover footage of him allegedly driving a vehicle with her body inside.

Madeline had just celebrated her 13th birthday when she was reported missing on 26 February from Kissimmee, Florida.

At the time, Mr Sterns, 37, told investigators that he had dropped her off close to her school that morning, but she never arrived for class.

Stephan Sterns pictured in mugshot
Stephan Sterns pictured in mugshot (Osceola County Sheriff's Office)

After a four-day search, Madeline’s body was found in a wooded area on 1 March.

Mr Sterns was arrested while search efforts were still under way, after “disturbing” images and videos of alleged sexual abuse were found on his cellphone.

Investigators said the cellphone contents, showing abuse stretching back years, was discovered despite the suspect saying he had accidentally performed a factory reset of his phone the day Madeline vanished.

He was later charged with sixty child sexual abuse offences and has been held in Osceola County Jail ever since.

Madeline Soto was found dead four days after she disappeared
Madeline Soto was found dead four days after she disappeared (Supplied)

Mr Sterns was due to appear for a pre-trial hearing earlier on Wednesday, but this was pushed back to July.

Mr Bain said that he expects Mr Sterns to appear in court in the coming days.

“I want to thank the grand jury for their hard work and their efforts in ensuring we are taking this first step in seeking justice for Madeline Soto,” he said.

Kissimmee Police Chief Betty Holland told reporters at the press conference that she understood the interest in Madeline’s case as she had just celebrated her birthday and was “just a child”.

“The evidence shows an individual who was entrusted to keep Madeline safe made calculated moves to dispose Madeline’s belongings and place her body in a wooded area before she was ever reported missing,” Chief Holland said.

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