Stephan Sterns charged with first-degree murder in Madeline Soto's death

Stephan Sterns has been charged with the murder of Madeline Soto, nearly two months after the 13-year-old Florida girl's body was found in Osceola County. 

Sterns, the boyfriend of Madeline Soto's mother Jennifer Soto, was charged with first-degree murder on Wednesday by a grand jury, according to Osceola County court records and officials. 

The indictment said Sterns allegedly killed Soto between Feb. 25 and Feb. 27, 2024. Her body was found days later, on March 1.


Stephan Sterns (Photo: Osceola County Jail)

Soto was reported missing on Feb. 26 after her mom went to pick her up from school at Hunter's Creek Middle School and was told that her daughter was not in class that day. Officials previously said they do not believe Soto ever made it to school that day.

Details on how "Maddie" was killed or what happened to her have not been released, including her autopsy report, citing the ongoing investigation. Officials were unable to answer many questions about facts related to the case, citing the ongoing investigation. 

"The evidence shows an individual that 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," said Kissimmee Police Chief Betty Holland at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

Florida State Attorney Andrew Bain said Sterns would make his first appearance within the next couple of days.

Will Jay, chief of the homicide unit at the State Attorney's Office, said right now, Sterns is the only person charged in Soto's death. 

He said there are no plea agreements on the table, and that the case itself is open and ongoing.

Could Stephan Sterns face the death penalty in Madeline Soto case?

It's possible. 

Florida State Attorney Andrew Bain said prosecutors are still deciding whether they'll seek the death penalty against Sterns.

He said his office would weigh the decision over the next couple of weeks to ensure they make the "appropriate legal decision." There are certain factors that have to be determined in order to make a decision, he said.

Is Madeline Soto's mom, Jennifer Soto, facing charges?

Soto's mom has not been named an official person of interest or suspect in her daughter's disappearance or death, and has not been charged with anything related to her daughter's disappearance or death. 

However, officials previously said everyone who was close to Maddie is considered a suspect until ruled out.

Could Madeline Soto's mother Jenn Soto be charged for murder post-Stephan Sterns indictment?

It's unclear how much, or how little, Soto's mom and family are cooperating with the investigation. Investigators were unable to answer those questions Wednesday, citing the ongoing case.

Watch again: FOX 35 interview with Jennifer Soto amid search for Madeline Soto

Stephan Sterns: The additional charges he's facing

In addition to the first-degree murder charge, Sterns faces more than 60 charges, including sexual battery, lewd and lascivious molestation and possession of child pornography in a separate case.

Sterns was arrested by the Orange County Sheriff's Office on Feb. 28 amid the search for Madeline. He was arrested after alleged photos and videos of child sex abuse material were found on his cell phone. He had provided his cell phone voluntarily to law enforcement. 

Then on March 12, the State Attorney's Office announced they had filed 60 additional charges against Sterns. He was charged with eight counts of sexual battery of a child under 12, five counts of sexual battery with a child aged 12 to 18, seven counts of lewd and lascivious molestation and 40 counts of unlawful possession of materials depicting sexual performance by a child (10 or more images). 

Breakdown of sexual battery, child porn-related charges against Stephan Sterns   

Court documents in those cases implied that Sterns may have abused Madeline for years prior to her disappearance.

Prior to his arrest on Wednesday, Sterns had long been considered the "prime suspect" in her disappearance, officials said.

Everything we know so far about Madeline Soto's disappearance, murder investigation 

"We appreciate the efforts of our partners in the State Attorney’s Office in assisting with seeking justice for Madeline," Kissimmee Police Chief Holland said Wednesday. "With this being a complex case with many facets, our work is not done, and we are continuing our investigation into the timeline leading up to Madeline's death."

Will Stephan Sterns' case go to trial?

A date was set for Sterns' trial after it was announced he was facing 60 additional charges. It was originally scheduled for May 13, but he was granted a continuance on the morning of April 24. A pre-trial hearing is set for July 10, followed by a rescheduled jury trial on Aug. 19, court records show.

Court cases and pre-trial dates are often changed or delayed as prosecution and defense attorneys file motions for a myriad of reasons. In this case, it was revealed the defense was not ready for trial. It should be noted that this continuance was granted for the case against Sterns regarding the alleged crimes of sexual nature. He's scheduled to make his first appearance in court pertaining to the murder charge on Thursday at 1 p.m. 

According to the State Attorney's Office, sexual battery on a child under 12 is a capital felony and is punishable by life in prison if convicted. His other charges carry sentences of up to life in prison, or up to 15 years in prison for each count. 

‘Service of hope and healing’ draws mourners demanding answers 

When was Madeline Soto reported missing?

Madeline Soto was reportedly last seen on the morning of Feb. 26, officials said. Sterns is said to have dropped her off at school that day, but Orange County Sheriff John Mina said she never made it.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office was initially the lead agency handling Madeline Soto's disappearance as a missing person's case. After her body was found in Osceola County, the case was transferred to Kissimmee Police, who has now become the lead investigative agency.

Sheriff Mina previously told reporters when the investigation went from a missing persons case to a suspected homicide case that detectives believe Maddie was never taken to school on Feb. 26, and that she was likely already dead.

Her backpack and school-issued laptop were found inside a dumpster at their apartment complex in Kissimmee, he previously said.

"At 8:19, we have evidence that shows Stephan Sterns returning to the complex, and Madeline was visible in that vehicle," Sheriff Mina said previously.

Five days after she was reported missing, Maddie's body was found in a grassy, wooded area off Old History Tree Road in rural Osceola County, officials said. It was in the same area where Sterns was possibly seen changing a flat tire.

No updates on that part of the investigation have been released.