Madeline Soto, murder suspect Stephan Sterns 'sometimes' slept in same bed, texted frequently: new documents

In the nearly 900 pages of documents obtained by FOX 35 on Wednesday, new details have been revealed regarding the relationship between 13-year-old Madeline Soto and her mom's boyfriend and murder suspect Stephan Sterns. 

Madeline was first reported missing on the morning of Feb. 26 after she didn't make it to school that morning. Investigators determined, however, that she was never actually dropped off at school and it was likely that she was already dead at this point. Her body was found in rural Osceola County on March 1. 

Sterns, the boyfriend of Madeline's mother, was charged with her murder on April 24, nearly two months after she was first reported missing. He currently remains in custody. In an update from the State Attorney's Office this week, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in this case should he be convicted. 

Stephan Sterns (Photo: Osceola County Jail)

The new documents obtained by FOX 35 reveal how "close" Madeline and Sterns were and other potentially disturbing details about their relationship. 

On the day after the teenager was reported missing, detectives met with Sterns and conducted an extensive interview with him to determine the timeline of events from the day prior. Sterns alleges that he dropped Madeline off at a church near Hunter's Creek Middle School in Orange County on the morning of Feb. 26. 

New docs reveal key items collected as evidence in Madeline Soto's disappearance, death

During this interview, it was discovered that Sterns had driven all around Orange and Osceola counties that day – he alleged that he went to McDonald's to get breakfast with Madeline and then they changed their mind, he said he went to a smoke shop that turned out to be closed, and he said he had to drive all the way back to Kissimmee to retrieve a gate clicker to enter his neighborhood, the documents said. 

FOX 35 first obtained the audio to this interview on May 17. It was among the first glimpses into Sterns' relationship with the 13-year-old girl. 

Stephan told detectives that Madeline was a "very good girl who brought a lot of joy and it did not feel the same without her around," according to the documents. He was known as Madeline's "bonus dad" and they had a "very strong bond," Sterns said in the interview. 

"This girl knows nothing but love here in this house," Sterns told detectives. 

Sterns also said he's the person Madeline goes to when she and her mother get into a fight and needs someone to comfort her, according to a police interview. 

"I'm that person for her," he added. 

On the same day, police spoke with Madeline's best friend who revealed that the teenager and Sterns "were always texting each other or talking on the phone," the documents said. 

"They were really close," the friend said of Madeline and Sterns, the documents said, adding that the two talked on the phone in the afternoon and night at least two to three times a week and texted regularly. 

Sterns reportedly was "very interested" in Madeline's life and they would talk about things happening at school. 

Madeline never told her best friend about anything inappropriate going on between her and Sterns, according to the police interview. 

In previous documents obtained by FOX 35, it was revealed that Sterns and Madeline sometimes slept together in the same bed. The new documents shed more light into that part of the investigation. 

Madeline's mother Jenn told detectives in an interview that her boyfriend and daughter slept in the same bed on "rare" occasions, the documents said. This is "so she could get some sleep because sometimes all three of them sleep in the same bed," the documents added. 

On another page in the report, Jenn reportedly told detectives that it was "normal" for Sterns and Madeline to sleep in the same bed when she wasn't home. 

Jenn also told police that it wasn't uncommon for the three of them to sleep in the same bed. 

Jenn and Sterns briefly broke up in late 2023, and during this time, Sterns still would allegedly sleep at the Soto household and in bed with Madeline, the documents allege. That's according to a woman Sterns used to work with and briefly dated. 

"(The woman) said Stephan Sterns justified this behavior by saying he needed to cuddle with her so she could fall asleep," the documents said. "(The woman) further recalled a conversation she had with Stephan Sterns where he told her that he woke up in the bed with [redacted] with an erection and had to turn around in the bed. (The woman) felt the comments Stephan Sterns made to her about sleeping with [redacted] were inappropriate and she stopped talking to him shortly after they were made."

It should be noted that on Feb. 25, the day before Madeline was reported missing, Sterns presumably slept in the same bed as Madeline. The portion of the document that mentions who Sterns shared a bed with was redacted, but mentions a birthday party – which is consistent with law enforcement's statements about Madeline's birthday party having been that weekend before she went missing. 

Sterns is facing a first-degree murder charge for the death of Madeline, and is also staring down 60 additional charges filed by the State Attorney's Office for unrelated sex-related crimes like molestation, sexual battery and child porn possession. 

The new documents obtained this week reveal that some of the disturbing material found on Sterns phone after he willingly handed his phone over to law enforcement were that of Madeline. FOX 35 is choosing not to disclose the contents of the photos due to their graphic nature, but it should be noted that on several occasions, detectives believe the alleged incidents happened in the Soto household. 

The State Attorney's Office said this week they're seeking the death penalty against Sterns should he be convicted. The state now intends to prove that: 

  • A capital felony was committed while Sterns was engaged in the commission of, or an attempt to commit aggravated child abuse
  • Madeline's vulnerability because Sterns stood in a position of familial or custodial authority over her
  • The capital felony was considered "heinous, atrocious or cruel"
  • Sterns is currently facing more than 60 counts of sexual battery, molestation, and other sex-related charges in a separate case, which will serve as priors if he is convicted

A judge has scheduled a pretrial conference for July 10. The jury trial is currently scheduled for July 16. These dates are subject to change.