Florida man charged with murder in 13-year-old girl’s death

FLORIDA – Stephan Michael Sterns, a 37-year-old resident of Florida, was officially charged with the first-degree murder of teenager Madeline Soto on Wednesday, approximately two months after her mysterious disappearance and heartbreaking death.

According to Osceola County court records, Sterns, who was involved romantically with Madeline’s mother during the time of the girl’s disappearance, will be presented before the court on Thursday for his initial hearing.

Madeline, a 13-year-old middle-schooler in Orlando, first raised concern when her teachers reported her unexplained absence from school on February 26. Sterns, who had reportedly seen the girl last, claimed he had dropped her off at school that day.

However, Sterns was arrested the next day on charges of sexual battery and possession of child sex abuse material, resulting from incriminating images and videos allegedly featuring him sexually abusing an underage girl. Sterns was already a person of interest when police found Madeline’s body on March 1, clad in clothes similar to those she was last seen wearing.

Authorities point to the harrowing timeline, underscored by video evidence of Sterns in his vehicle with Madeline’s dead body, following which he discarded items, including the girl’s backpack and school-associated laptop, into a trash bin. The police accuse Sterns of moving Madeline’s body after her death.

Moreover, an arrest affidavit claimed Sterns might have sexually abused Madeline since she was 11, back in 2022. A jury trial has been scheduled for August 19, 2024, with the authorities yet to decide on pursuing the death penalty against Sterns.