Suspect in Madeline Soto’s disappearance faces 60 new sex crime charges

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The boyfriend of the mother of 13-year-old Madeline Soto, the Florida girl who was found dead in a wooded area this month, is facing 60 new charges that span from sexual battery to possession of child pornography, authorities said Tuesday. 

Stephan Sterns, 37, who was previously described by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office as “the prime suspect” in Madeline’s disappearance, was hit with the fresh charges on Monday, according to a news release from the State Attorney’s Office for the Ninth Judicial Circuit. 

He has not been charged in connection with the girl’s death. 

Madeline’s mother reported her missing Feb. 26 after she went to pick the girl up from school and learned that she never made it.

Sterns was arrested Feb. 28 on charges of sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material after detectives found “disturbing images” and videos that were “criminal, and sexual in nature” on his phone, the sheriff’s office said.

During the search for Madeline, Sterns was interviewed by law enforcement and consented to having his phone searched, an arrest affidavit said. He told authorities he accidentally did a factory reset the day Madeline vanished, according to the affidavit.

However, a forensic examination of the phone led authorities to discover the images, prompting his arrest. The arrest affidavit did not name Madeline but said the images found depicted “the missing juvenile.”

Further investigation led to the discovery of more images showing criminal acts, leading to the new charges.

He now faces eight counts of sexual battery on a child under 12; five counts of sexual battery with a child 12 to 18 (familial/custodial authority); seven counts of lewd or lascivious molestation; and 40 counts of unlawful possession of materials depicting sexual performance by a child 10 or more images, according to the news release. 

Court documents filed Monday, which blocked out the name of the victim, indicate that the crimes dated back to 2019, several of which took place when the victim was under the age of 12. 

“The State Attorney’s Office has been working closely with KPD and received evidence that gave us cause to file formal charges against Sterns,” State Attorney Andrew A. Bain said in a statement. “We appreciate the thoroughness and detailed attention of their investigation and will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to build a strong case against the defendant.” 

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Sexual battery on a child under 12 is a capital felony, punishable by life in prison if a defendant is convicted, prosecutors said. 

Sterns is currently being held in the Osceola County Jail. His arraignment is set for April 2.

NBC News has reached out to the public defender’s office for comment. It’s not clear if he’s yet been assigned an attorney.

The Kissimmee Police Department is the lead agency in Madeline’s homicide investigation.

It is believed she was killed in Kissimmee, where her family lived in an apartment, and that Sterns moved her body early Feb. 26, Orange County Sheriff John Mina previously said.

Madeline’s body was found March 1. No details have been released about how she died.

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