Lawyers spar as Soria trial looms
MINDEN – Attorneys for accused child killer Thomas Robert Soria Sr. said Tuesday they’re worried about pretrial publicity and acknowledged their client may be convicted.
The comments came during a hearing on Soria Sr.’s case, part of which was closed after Douglas District Judge Dave Gamble agreed testimony from a prospective witness could be prejudicial.
Soria Sr., 39, is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 17 on charges of sexual assault, kidnapping and murder in the death of Krystal Steadman, 9. Her body was found March 20, a day after she disappeared from the Lake Park apartment complex in Stateline, where Soria lived.
His son, Thomas Jr., 20, previously pleaded guilty to murder and kidnapping in the case and was sentenced to life in prison.
Soria Jr. is scheduled to testify against his father, and prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty if the older Soria is convicted.
Prosecutors successfully introduced what they called a “syntax” change to the information charging Soria Sr. with murder, a move Soria Sr. attorney John Springgate opposed.
“This is a capital case. We anticipate there is a possibility it will reach a penalty phase,” he said. “(The amendment) changes the theory of the defense.”
Springgate said the defense team believes Soria Jr. killed Krystal, a theory prosecutor Tom Perkins didn’t deny.
Attorneys for both sides also said the trial might take up to six weeks instead of the three weeks currently scheduled. Court documents show 15 possible defense witnesses and 59 prosecution witnesses.
One of those witnesses testified briefly Tuesday, but Gamble closed the hearing after Springgate objected based on concerns prospective jurors would be tainted. The witness, a security agent with the California lottery, was described in a previous court filing as being involved in an investigation in which Soria Sr. allegedly threatened female co-workers.
Prosecutors also plan to offer evidence of other crimes they say Soria Sr. committed. Though Soria Jr. said he lured Krystal to the family apartment, he also told investigators his father sexually abused him throughout his childhood. In addition, prosecutors are planning to call a 9-year-old girl who formerly lived at the Lake Park complex and was allegedly molested by Soria Sr.
Prosecutors say the testimony would show a pattern of abuse against children by Soria Sr.
Gamble said the testimony from Soria Jr. will probably be taken after the jury is selected. He also said decisions on which crime scene photos can be used will be made as the trial proceeds.
The defense sought to limit the photos, citing potential prejudice to the jury.
A jury pool has been selected. Gamble and the attorneys are finalizing procedures for questioning, a process they say could take up to seven days.
Soria Sr. remains in the Douglas County jail.
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