Madeline Soto case: Audio reveals what Florida teen’s accused killer told police

Madeline Soto case: Audio reveals what Florida teen’s accused killer told police

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Police audio obtained by WFLA reveals what Stephan Sterns, the man accused of murdering 13-year-old Madeline Soto, told police the day after his stepdaughter went missing.

Sterns sat down with detectives at the home he shares with Soto and her mother on the morning of February 27, the day before the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office declared him the “prime suspect” in the girl’s missing persons case. The interview was held before Sterns was charged with 60 child sex crimes and first degree murder in Soto’s death.

Madeline Soto case: Potential evidence revealed in Florida teen’s death investigation

The 43-minute audio file, provided by the State Attorney’s Office, details detectives’ attempts to piece together what happened the morning before the teenager was reported missing. Sterns was the last person to see Soto alive.

Sterns reported splitting his time between the Kissimmee home and his parents’ house in North Port. He had not resided with Soto and her mother since December, according to the interview.

What happened the day Soto went missing?

Sterns had difficulty recounting the route he took to drop Soto off at her middle school, frequently saying that he did not recall exactly where he was and at what time. He blamed this on not being “a morning person,” being “half-asleep,” and taking a sedative medication that he reported using for anxiety.

According to Sterns’ account of the day’s events, both he and Soto forgot to bring their phones with them, which he attributed to the “severe ADHD” they both apparently have. They travelled from their home using John Young Parkway north to a McDonald’s, but did not order any food. Sterns said they were nearing Hunter’s Creek Middle School when he suddenly turned around and drove back toward the McDonald’s, stating that he was unfamiliar with the route to his stepdaughter’s middle school and the time classes began.

Sterns estimated he dropped Soto off away from school property between 8:20 and 8:40 a.m. because she was apparently embarrassed to be seen getting out of a parent’s car.

“Why was your car seen going southbound on John Young Parkway at 8:10?” a detective asked after Sterns walked the detectives through the route.

Sterns said he forgot to mention that the pair had to turn around and go back to Kissimmee to get the gate clicker for their neighborhood. According to his account, they continued on to her school. After dropping Soto off, he said he visited a smoke shop and then got a flat tire.

He described Soto as “very dependent” on her parents when detectives asked if she’s ever run away from home. Sterns was able to recall what she was wearing and had on her person the day she went missing.

The search for Madeline Soto

When asked if he searched for Soto that day, Sterns said he could not recall because he was “zonked out” on anxiety medication.

“My brain was mush, and I was on so many tranquilizers to keep me stabilized,” Sterns said in the interview. “I was having rolling panic attacks and breaking down crying.”

A detective searched his phone during the interview, which included his Google Maps history and call logs. The detective reported that Sterns’ call history began that morning.

“I don’t know what the heck I did, but somehow, during the massive iOS update, I managed to factory reset my phone and lose all of my contacts, all my information,” he said, according to the interview.

As the interview concluded, detectives told Sterns they were taking his phone and instructed him not to move his car.

Madeline Soto’s mom told police it was normal for teen to sleep in same bed as stepfather: report

What happened next?

Sterns was arrested after a search warrant turned up “concerning images” on his phone. He was charged with 60 child sex crimes, including sexual battery, lewd and lascivious molestation and possession of child pornography. The trial for the child sex crimes case is scheduled for August.

Sterns is charged with first degree murder in connection to Soto’s death, but police have not publicly disclosed a potential motive. Sterns is due back in court for a pretrial meeting on July 10. The murder trial is set to begin on July 16.

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