Stephan Sterns Charged with Murder and Child Abuse in Madeline Soto Case

May 22, 11:00 AM

In a significant development in the case of Madeline Soto's disappearance and death, Stephan Sterns has been charged with first-degree murder. This indictment comes amid revelations of over 1,700 explicit images found on Sterns' Google Drive and inconsistencies in his account of the events surrounding Madeline's disappearance.

Sterns was initially arrested after detectives searching for Madeline discovered child sex abuse material on his cell phone. Sterns had voluntarily handed over his phone to law enforcement but claimed to have inadvertently performed a factory reset, erasing its contents. Despite this, investigators recovered over 1,700 images from a Google Drive account linked to Sterns. These images included explicit photos of Madeline, suggesting ongoing sexual abuse.

Shortly after his arrest, Sterns was charged with 60 counts of sexual battery, lewd and lascivious molestation, and possession of materials depicting the sexual performance of a child. "I don't know what the heck I did, but somehow, during the massive OS update, I managed to factory reset my phone and lose all of my contacts, all my information," Sterns told police in a recorded interview obtained by FOX 35.

In a grim turn of events, Sterns has now been indicted for first-degree murder in the death of Madeline Soto. Officials allege that Madeline was killed between February 25 and 27, although the exact motive remains unknown. A friend of the Soto family described the indictment as "a big win" for those seeking justice for Madeline.

The explicit images found on Sterns' Google Drive were not only graphic but also dated back to June 2019, implicating him in a long-term pattern of abuse. "The gut-wrenching discovery of these images further confirms the disturbing nature of Sterns' actions," stated a law enforcement official.

Sterns admitted to police that he had saved photos to a Google Drive account, including photos of him and Madeline. When questioned about the images, Sterns asked if he should consult a lawyer and subsequently requested an attorney, halting further questioning.

During a 43-minute police interview, Sterns provided a muddled timeline of the morning of Madeline's disappearance. He mentioned discussing breakfast plans with Madeline and forgetting their phones at home. Sterns also omitted details such as returning home to retrieve a gate clicker and getting a flat tire after dropping Madeline off at school.

Surveillance footage from Sterns' gated community showed his vehicle leaving with a "female wearing a green sweater" slumped over in the front seat. Although the footage did not explicitly identify Madeline, investigators believe she was deceased at the time.

Documents revealed details about the household dynamics, including Sterns occasionally sleeping in the same bed as Madeline. Jenn Soto, Madeline's mother, told detectives that Sterns had lived with them on and off for seven years and that it was not unusual for them to share a bed. Sterns explained that Madeline "always needed human contact when going to sleep," referring to it as "snuggling."

In a heartbreaking moment, Jenn Soto was shown a photo allegedly depicting abuse, but she did not recognize anything in it and later became visibly upset. While Jenn has not been named a suspect, officials have stated that everyone close to Madeline is considered a suspect until ruled out.

As the case against Stephan Sterns progresses, the community remains shocked and saddened by the revelations. The pre-trial hearing for Sterns' murder case is scheduled for July 10, with the trial set for July 16. The hearing for the sexual battery charges is also scheduled for July 10, with a trial date of August 19.

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