New Evidence Revealed in Madeline Soto's Murder Case: Stephan Sterns Faces Mountain of Evidence

Jun 14, 11:00 AM

Hundreds of pages of investigative documents and reports into the disappearance and murder of 13-year-old Madeline Soto have unveiled the extensive evidence police have gathered against her accused killer, Stephan Sterns.
Madeline Soto was reported missing on February 26, just a day after celebrating her birthday. According to her mother, Jennifer Soto, Sterns, who was her boyfriend at the time, had taken Madeline to school that morning. However, Madeline never made it to school, and her body was discovered in a wooded area on March 1. Sterns has been charged with her murder and faces additional charges for possessing over 1500 disturbing images and videos of Madeline found on his phone.
Court TV reviewed over 800 pages of documents released by the Osceola and Orange County Sheriffs’ Offices, shedding light on Sterns' shifting stories and the physical evidence police found near Madeline’s body.

**Finding Madeline’s Body**
Madeline's body was discovered near a line of bamboo trees, less than 100 feet from the road where Sterns was seen with a flat tire on the day she disappeared. Officers noted she was wearing a green hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans, her body partially covered by "pieces of hay or dry grass." The medical examiner reported her body was in a "state of decomposition with visible insect activity around her mouth, left eye, ears, and right hand."
The documents do not specify Madeline's cause of death, but WFTV Investigative Reporter Shannon Butler revealed that her sources indicate Madeline was strangled.

**The Tale of the Tapes**
Investigators presented video evidence that contradicted Sterns' claims about his actions on the day Madeline was last seen. Sterns told police he dropped Madeline off near her school at approximately 8:30 a.m. However, surveillance footage shows Sterns driving with Madeline's lifeless body in the car nearly an hour before. In one video, Sterns is seen discarding trash bags into the compactor at Jennifer’s apartment complex. Detectives found Madeline’s school laptop, backpack, and a trash bag containing one of her shoes in the compactor.
Further surveillance footage from traffic cameras showed Sterns taking a different route than he reported, and at one point, he pulled into a garage near Holiday Inn Club Vacations. The footage shows Sterns carrying a limp body to the trunk of his vehicle.

**Inside the Soto House**
Sterns had lived with Jennifer and Madeline until December 2023. Besides Jennifer and Madeline, at least two other roommates resided in the home. During a search, investigators found that the rooms in the house matched the backgrounds of many images of child sex abuse on Sterns' phone. Additionally, they discovered "masturbation cream," a Sig Sauer weapon, ammunition, and a wallet with multiple credit cards in Sterns' room.
Jennifer admitted she allowed Madeline to share a bed with Sterns, and on the night before Madeline disappeared, she sent them to sleep together. Sterns claimed he arrived home while Jennifer was at work and ensured Madeline followed her nightly routines.
A woman identifying herself as Sterns' ex-girlfriend told deputies she stopped speaking to Sterns after he mentioned sharing a bed with Madeline. She recalled Sterns justifying his behavior by saying he needed to cuddle with Madeline to help her sleep. She further revealed a conversation where Sterns admitted waking up with an erection while in bed with Madeline.

**Interviews with Friends and Family**
Friends, teachers, and others who knew Madeline described her as a kind and sweet girl who suffered from anxiety. They found it hard to believe she would run away and stated she had no known issues with anyone. One friend mentioned Madeline’s menstrual cycle was late, suggesting potential sexual abuse.

The release of these documents comes shortly after prosecutors announced their intention to seek the death penalty in Sterns’ murder case.
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