Stephan Sterns charged with first-degree murder in death of 13-year-old Madeline Soto

Sterns also faces 60 charges related to sexual battery, child pornography

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Stephan Sterns, the man investigators have called the prime suspect in the death of 13-year-old Madeline Soto, is now facing a charge of first-degree murder, News 6 has confirmed through the Osceola County Clerk Of Courts.

The Orange-Osceola state attorney and Kissimmee police chief gave an update Wednesday, saying a grand jury handed up an indictment against Sterns in Soto’s death.

State Attorney Andrew Bain said his office has not yet decided whether it will seek the death penalty against Sterns in this case.

[RELATED: TIMELINE: Here’s where things stand in Madeline Soto case after prime suspect charged with first-degree murder]

“We’ve got to look at accessory aggravating factors that are laid out in our report,” he said. “Once we determine that we have sufficient evidence to prove those factors to the proper evidentiary standard, then we have to have a talk about whether this is a death penalty case.”

When asked whether anyone else could face charges, investigators remained vague.

“At this time, the only person being charged is Stephan Sterns and again, this is not over. There is an ongoing investigation to uncover more evidence therefore we can’t comment,” said Will Jay, a prosecutor in the Orange-Osceola state attorney’s office.

Sterns, 37, was previously arrested on Feb. 28. He was, according to investigators, the last person confirmed to have seen the Soto alive. At the time, Sterns was in a relationship with the girl’s mother.

The girl was reported missing around 8 p.m. Feb. 26 after Sterns claimed he dropped her off that morning near Hunter’s Creek Middle School. However, when Madeline’s mother arrived at the school around 4:30 p.m. to pick her up, she was told Madeline had never come to school that day.

He was arrested during the investigation into Soto’s disappearance when investigators said they found “images and videos that were criminal, and sexual in nature” during a forensic examination of Sterns’ phone.

In addition to the murder charge, Sterns also faces:

  • Eight counts of sexual battery on a child under 12
  • Five counts of sexual battery with a child 12-18 (familial/custodial authority)
  • Seven counts of lewd or lascivious molestation
  • 40 counts of unlawful possession of materials depicting sexual performance by a child 10 or more

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About the Author

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.

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