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Soria death ends murder trial

F.T. NORTON, Sun News Service

MINDEN, NEV. – A man on trial for the rape and murder of a 9-year-old Lake Tahoe girl was found dead in his Douglas County jail cell early Sunday morning.

Thomas Robert Soria Sr., who turned 40 Friday, was discovered not breathing at 5 a.m., said Douglas County Sheriff Lt. Ross Chichester. He was pronounced dead after paramedics arrived.

Soria Sr. was being tried on charges of murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in the slaying of Krystal Steadman. Officials say Soria Sr. was acting out sexual fantasies he had documented on his computer when he had his son, Thomas Robert Soria Jr., lure the little girl to his home.

Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini said during a press conference his office is investigating Soria Sr.’s death, but an early autopsy discovered a hole in the accused killer’s heart.

A Sacramento Bee story from April 7, 2000, indicates Soria Sr. had a heart condition as early as 1987. Pierini confirmed Soria Sr. was on cardiac medication.

Toxicology results to rule out a drug overdose can take up to six weeks to be completed.

“We don’t yet have a conclusive cause of death,” Pierini said.

Krystal’s father John Steadman said Sunday he was notified by a Reno television station of Soria Sr.’s death.

“He didn’t suffer enough,” he said Sunday from his home in Tennessee.

Pierini said Soria Sr. was being held in the Douglas County Jail in a medical cell, “for his protection and everyone else’s.”

Guards checked him hourly, Pierini said. When guards opened Soria Sr.’s cell door for breakfast, they found him unresponsive.

Pierini said until the autopsy is complete, there is no way of knowing how long Soria Sr. was dead.

His body was transported to the Washoe County Coroner’s Office in Reno.

Pierini said Soria Jr. was informed of his father’s death and moved Sunday morning back to Nevada State Prison.

“I ordered the move because we had taken him out of the prison setting for the trial. That obviously isn’t going to happen now.” Pierini said.

Nevada State Prison spokesman Glen Wharton declined to comment on Soria Jr.’s status or if he was under a suicide watch.

Krystal’s grandfather Les Bucknell read a family statement which began, “We are elated at the news of Soria’s death.”

Bucknell said he personally believed Soria Sr.’s death was a sign from God.

“These latest events will bring closure much more quickly than going through a protracted trial and the delays which can be encountered in the state and federal courts,” Bucknell said.

“It’s over,” he said, crying, “and we can all start rebuilding our lives.”

On March 19, Krystal and her mother, Elizabeth Steadman, were visiting a friend at the Lakeview Apartments in Stateline when Krystal disappeared.

Her body was found the next day, wrapped in a garbage bag, down an embankment on Highway 50 about seven miles from Carson City. Autopsy results showed she had been raped and her throat slashed.

Mrs. Steadman testified Friday on the first day of the trial about her frantic search for Krystal after she didn’t return.

She said she even entered the Sorias’ apartment after hearing Krystal had been playing with Soria Jr. She said Soria Jr. let her in, but she couldn’t see inside the master bedroom because the door was closed and Soria Jr. claimed his uncle was asleep.

Soria Jr. admitted luring the 9-year-old to the apartment for his father. He pleaded guilty to his part in the killing and kidnapping and was sentenced to life in prison.

Soria Jr. wept Thursday as he testified to being sexually abused by his father.


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