Man charged in connection with death of 13-year-old Madeline Soto

Stephan Sterns, Madeline Soto

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — A man has been charged with first-degree murder months after a 13-year-old girl went missing and was found dead in Osceola County, Florida at the end of February.

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An Osceola County grand jury indicted Stephan Sterns Wednesday with first-degree murder in the death of Madeline Soto, 13, according to Florida State Attorney Andrew Bain.

Soto was killed between Feb. 25 and Feb. 27, according to records obtained by WFTV. Soto’s body was found days later on March 1 in a wooded area.

Soto was reported missing by her mother, Jennifer Soto, on Feb. 26, according to The Associated Press. Sterns was Jennifer Soto’s boyfriend, according to the Florida State Attorney’s Office.

Bain said, according to WFTV, that he will later decide whether to pursue the death penalty or not. Sterns is scheduled to be arranged on Monday.

Sterns is being held without bond, according to the AP. He is also facing other charges related to Madeline Soto including sexual battery on a child under the age of 12 and unlawful possession of child sex abuse material.

“This indictment signifies a crucial step forward in our quest for justice and a testament to our commitment to honoring Madeline’s memory,” Kissimmee Police Department Chief Betty Holland said.

“Building a strong criminal case requires working closely with law enforcement and our office began working with deputies and Kissimmee Police in the very early stages of this investigation. Over the past nearly eight weeks, we have collaborated with our law enforcement partners to collect and review a tremendous amount of evidence and information,” Bain said.

“Extensive death investigations can typically take six weeks or longer but because of the solid policework and work of the prosecutors assigned to the case, we were successful in presenting this case to the grand jury in a relatively short time and securing a First Degree Murder indictment. Madeline deserves justice and our office will do everything legally possible to ensure the defendant is held accountable for his actions and the community and Madeline’s family receive closure,” Bain continued.

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