Stephan Sterns Could Receive a Life Sentence for What Police Discovered on His Phone

Stephan Sterns is probably going to prison for the rest of his life. He might also receive the death penalty.

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

Mar. 15 2024, Published 5:11 p.m. ET

On Feb. 26, 2024 a mere four days after her thirteenth birthday, Madeline Soto was driven to school by her mother's boyfriend. Stephan Sterns would later tell police he dropped the teenager off a few blocks away from her middle school, possibly because she was embarrassed. Later that day, Madeline's mother Jennifer Soto was horrified to discover her daughter never made it to school. No one thought to call Jennifer to inquire about Madeline's absence.

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In a heartbreaking on-camera interview with WFTV Channel 9 the day after Madeline vanished, Jennifer told the reporter everything she knew about the day she last saw her daughter. Then Sterns stepped in looking devastated, with ashen skin and bloodshot eyes. He appeared to be very much playing the role of the grieving partner to Jennifer. The following day he would be arrested and charged with "sexual battery and possession of child sex abuse material," per Fox 35 Orlando. Where is he now? Here's what we know.

Stephan Sterns's mug shot; Madeline Soto thirteenth birthday
Source: Osceola County Jail; YouTube/WFTV Channel 9 (video still)

Stephan Sterns's mug shot; Madeline Soto on her thirteenth birthday

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Where is Stephan Sterns now? He is being held in Osceola County Jail.

NBC News reported that since Sterns's Feb. 28, 2024 arrest, 60 charges have been added to an already alarming list. As of this writing, he has not been charged with Madeline's death but he is the prime suspect. In an arrest affidavit obtained by the outlet, police said they searched Sterns's phone and found "disturbing" photos and videos that were "criminal, and sexual in nature." Evidently he tried to get rid of these troubling photos and videos by doing a factory reset on his phone.

After a forensic examination was conducted, more upsetting photos were discovered on Sterns's phone. They went as far back as 2019 and involve a victim under the age of 12. He has since been charged with "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," per NBC News.

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If convicted, Stephan Sterns could receive a life sentence or the death penalty.

David Thomas, a professor of forensic studies at Florida Gulf Coast University, spoke with WESH 2 News about the severity of Sterns's crimes in the state of Florida. "No matter what, he's not getting out of jail," he told the outlet. Thomas is certain Sterns will never taste freedom again. Obviously what sealed the deal was doing a complete forensic analysis of Sterns's phone. Without that, there would probably be one or two charges against him, but it's the amount of evidence police have that is so damning.

If convicted, Sterns could get life in prison or, worse, the death penalty. What could tip Sterns into the latter sentencing is if he is charged with Madeline's murder. Thomas believes police have enough circumstantial evidence to charge Sterns with that, but is confident they are gathering enough to really "make sure their case is sealed." He went on to say, "They want to make sure justice is served, and it's served properly."

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