Soria Jr. will avoid death penalty by pleading guilty
The younger of the two men accused of slaying a 9-year-old South Lake Tahoe girl announced his decision to plead guilty to kidnapping and murdering the child before a preliminary hearing proceeded against his father, who has also been charged with abducting, raping, and killing Krystal Steadman.
Thomas Soria Jr., 19, will appear in a Douglas County District Court this morning to enter his plea. In exchange the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office has agreed to dismiss the charge of sexual assault against him and promised not to seek the death penalty.
“He is pleading guilty to the things that he did,” Deputy District Attorney Tom Perkins said. “And we don’t think that he was eligible for the death penalty under the law.”
Perkins would not rule out a plea by Thomas Soria Sr. – the other man charged in the girl’s death – but called it highly unlikely.
“We have not made a final decision on Soria Sr. but we think he is eligible for the death penalty and we will probably seek it,” he said.
Neither he or attorneys for Soria Sr. would comment on how the son’s plea will affect the case against the father, who was in court throughout the day Monday while witnesses testified during his preliminary hearing which is scheduled to continue today in the Tahoe Township Justice Court.
Prosecutors will be able to use a sworn statement about Steadman’s death by Soria Jr. against his father, but they agreed not to call him as a witness during the hearing this week. Soria Jr. was required to give the statement as part of his plea bargain.
The eight witnesses who did testify Monday talked about evidence gathered during the investigation and about what Soria Jr. was seen doing March 19 – the day he allegedly met Steadman after she and some friends asked him to “come out and play,” and the day she disappeared.
Her body was found the next morning at the side of U.S. Highway 50 two miles west of Carson City. She had been stripped naked and her throat had been slashed.
Diantha Wilson, the woman who led investigators to the body, testified that she saw a man throw a bag over the side of the highway the evening Krystal disappeared and said, “I felt very uncomfortable with what I had seen. Something wasn’t right.”
The man she saw was allegedly standing next to a red and white sport utility vehicle, which has been at the center of the case against both men and of much of the testimony given Monday.
A 9-year-old friend of Steadman said Krystal had been riding on a similar vehicle driven by Soria Jr. and Steadman’s mother Betty said her daughter told her she had been playing by the truck.
“That was the last time we saw her,” Betty Steadman said. “She said she would be right back and she never came back.”
Betty Steadman was shaking during her testimony and said she panicked when her daughter disappeared from the Lake Park Apartments in Stateline.
Betty Steadman lives in Meyers but was visiting her boyfriend in the apartments with her daughter. She learned from Krystal’s 9-year-old friend that the girls had been playing with Soria Jr. – who lives and works in the apartment complex – and went to his home to look for her daughter.
“I had a feeling, a sense, that something was wrong there,” said Betty Steadman, who was allowed in the apartment but not into the father’s bedroom.
She was accompanied by her boyfriend and the girl who knew Soria Jr. from the Lake Park branch of the Boys and Girls Club where he was employed. She introduced Steadman to Soria Jr. and asked him several times during the day to come out and play.
The last time the girl saw Steadman she was riding away on a bike in order to check in with her mother.
Attorneys for Soria Sr. pointed out that none of the witnesses saw their client with Steadman and the court atmosphere occasionally grew tense as lawyers tried to speak over one another and the defense frequently objected to the way in which witnesses answered questions.
In particular, Betty Steadman had difficulty answering questions and often seemed distracted.
“It just gets worse every day,” her older daughter Sonya Klempner said. “It won’t ever end because my sister can’t come back.”
DNA evidence allegedly linking Soria Sr. to the crimes is expected to be presented today and prosecutors are confident Judge Steven McMorris will find enough evidence to hold the father for trial.
The final four witnesses to testify Monday all worked for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
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