Trial Date Set for ‘Prime Suspect’ in Madeline Soto Murder Case

Stephan Sterns, the man officials labeled as the “prime suspect” in the death of 13-year-old Madeline Soto, is set to stand trial this spring after being charged with 60 child sex crimes.

Sterns, who lived with Soto and is dating her mother, has waived his April 2 arraignment, according to Osceola County court records.

Trial Date Set for 'Prime Suspect' in Madeline Soto Murder Case

An arraignment occurs when a defendant appears in court to admit the allegations against them and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Sterns will not appear in court since he has waived the formal arraignment process. Instead, his attorney will file a formal plea on his behalf.

His next court appearance is a pre-trial hearing set for April 24. The prosecution and defense will appear before a judge simultaneously to decide whether or not to proceed with a jury trial. It also provides an opportunity for defense attorneys to file numerous motions, such as a motion to dismiss charges.

According to court documents, a jury trial has already been scheduled for May 13 in Osceola County.

Sterns has not been charged with Soto’s murder, but detectives say they discovered evidence of sexual abuse against a child dating back to 2019, when she would have been 8 years old.

Kissimmee police said “disturbing” photographs and videos found on his phone resulted in 60 new charges, including sexual battery of a minor, lewd and lascivious molestation, and possession of child sexual abuse materials.

If convicted on the sexual battery charges, which are capital offenses, he may face life in jail or death.

Trial Date Set for 'Prime Suspect' in Madeline Soto Murder Case

“No matter what, he’s not getting out of jail,” David Thomas, a forensic studies professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, told NBC station WESH.

Thomas believes there is enough circumstantial evidence to charge Sterns with murder, but Kissimmee police investigators want to ensure their case is solid.

“Give law enforcement, give the medical examiner’s office the opportunity to do their job because it takes time to do a great forensics analysis,” Thomas said in an interview with WESH. “They want to make sure justice is served, and it’s served properly.”

Madeline Soto was last seen alive on February 26. Sterns is suspected by police of killing Soto while on his way to drop her off at school.

According to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Sterns was recorded on video dumping goods into a dumpster at 7:35 a.m. that day. Officials discovered her backpack and school laptop in the dumpster.

Sterns was seen again at 8:19 a.m., returning to his apartment building with Soto in the car, according to the sheriff’s office. Detectives believe she had already died by that point.

Madeline Soto’s body was eventually discovered in the woods along Old Hickory Tree Road in Osceola County. Officials say Sterns was seen in the neighborhood on the afternoon of February 26.

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