Trial delayed for Stephan Sterns, accused of killing 13-year-old girl in Florida

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – A court hearing Wednesday resulted in a postponed trial date for Stephan Sterns, the man accused of killing Madeline Soto and leaving her body in rural Osceola County.

Soto was 13 when she was reported missing by her mother on Feb. 26, and was soon found dead on March 1 by deputies searching a wooded area off Hickory Tree Road in Osceola County.

Stephan Sterns, 38, the boyfriend of Soto’s mother, was the last person confirmed to have seen Soto alive. In addition to being charged with first-degree murder, Sterns faces dozens of charges stemming from what investigators said were disturbing images and video found on his phone showing him sexually abusing a child.

Sterns initially told investigators that he “accidentally” performed a factory reset on his phone the day Soto was reported missing.

A hearing was originally scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday on the charge of first-degree murder, which carries the death penalty.

A second such hearing, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, would touch on the 60 additional charges against Sterns, including possession of material depicting sexual performance of a child, sexual assault of a child and indecent or lewd molestation.

Both hearings were eventually to be combined at 1:30 p.m., as the court had granted the defense’s request to continue the first hearing as more time was needed to prepare the case.

Sterns had already applied to waive his scheduled appearances at both court events in advance, but did so on Tuesday, records show.


Court adjourned for about half an hour Wednesday, as Stern’s trial date in the first-degree murder case was moved to Oct. 14, 2024.

The trial on the remaining 60 charges is currently set to begin on August 19.

This is an evolving story. Check back here for updates.

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