Investigators found human blood in a vehicle belonging to a youth-club worker hours after a 9-year-old girl who had been playing with him disappeared, court records say.
Thomas Robert Soria Jr., 19, was formally charged Tuesday with felony murder and kidnapping in connection with the knifing death of Krystal Steadman, 9, of South Lake Tahoe.
Douglas County prosecutors gave notice Tuesday that they may seek the death penalty in the case.
Soria was arrested Monday, a few hours after investigators found the body of the 4-foot, 45-pound girl off Highway 50 two miles west of Carson City.
Soria, wearing a borrowed shirt so he wouldn't be photographed in jail clothes, made his first court appearance Tuesday in Tahoe Township Justice Court. He did not look at any of the victim's relatives in the front row of the room, focusing instead on Judge Steve McMorris and answering "Yes, sir" in a clear, quiet voice to questions about whether he understood the proceeding.
In the courtroom, the girl's 25-year-old sister, Sonya Klempnerr, cried as the charges were read. "My sister's (death) is an example of how you can teach a child all that is good and bad, but this kind of thing can still happen," she said later.
Krystal disappeared from a parking lot at the Lake Park Apartments on Kahle Drive in Stateline on Sunday afternoon.
Witnesses told investigators they saw the girl talking with Soria at the apartment complex, where she and her family were visiting friends.
Soria lives at the complex and worked part-time at a Boys & Girls Club branch located there. He was described as a program aide who had worked there about seven months, organizing youth programs, helping children with homework and running a computer lab.
Soria had been letting Steadman and two other girls ride on the running boards of his 1989 Chevrolet Blazer while he drove in the complex parking lot, according to a probable cause statement written by sheriff's investigator Ted Duzan. The other two girls eventually left.
Steadman's mother began looking for her around 2:30 p.m. and went to Soria's apartment. The statement says the mother went into the unit but could not look in one of the bedrooms. Soria told the mother he did not know where the girl was.
He later told investigators during a voluntary interview that after giving the girls rides, he went to a fast-food restaurant in South Lake Tahoe, returned home, left again to get a soda and then got into an argument with his father. He then went to Cave Rock and spent some time at a rest area near Spooner Summit, he said.
While at Cave Rock, Soria said his shirt became muddy and he tried to wash it in Lake Tahoe.
The report says Soria was shaking and appeared nervous throughout the interview, and that while he provided no relevant information, his story seemed to make no sense.
The statement says Soria voluntarily gave his clothes to the investigators during the interview and one noticed what appeared to be a blood stain near the toe of his boot.
A subsequent search of the Blazer yielded blood on the passenger-side running board and interior floor boards, the statement says. A test showed it contained human hemoglobins. Investigators said they thought the vehicle had been partially cleaned.
The criminal complaint filed in Tahoe Township Justice Court indicates Steadman may have been stabbed or attacked with a sharp object. Deputy District Attorney Tom Perkins, who will prosecute the case along with fellow deputy district attorney Alan Buttell, declined to comment after the hearing.
Results of an autopsy that are expected to be released today may lead to additional charges.
A Carson City woman reported seeing a red and white Bronco-type vehicle on the westbound side of Highway 50 around 5 p.m. Sunday. She said she saw a white man with medium, "shaggy" hair and a white shirt throw something resembling a pillow case over the edge of the road. Soria stands 5 feet, 8 inches tall and has short, dark hair.
Steadman's body was found on an embankment between Highway 50 and Clear Creek Road. She had suffered a deep laceration to her neck.
Attorneys Tod Young and Mark Jackson have been appointed to represent Soria. Both contract with Douglas County to provide criminal defense and have experience with death penalty cases.
Soria is to appear again March 29. Young indicated he may ask for a bail amount to be set then. Currently, Soria is being held without bail at the Douglas County jail in Stateline.
McMorris scheduled an April 25 preliminary hearing, which will determine if Soria will be sent to District Court for trial.
District Attorney Scott Doyle said a final decision on pursuing the death penalty won't be made until after the investigation is complete and the information has been fully reviewed.
"The only thing we are doing now is taking steps procedurally to preserve our right to seek the death penalty," he said. "There is more information that needs to be looked at. It is not a decision that is made rapidly."
Lake Tahoe Boys & Girls Club executive director Steve Conway said Krystal's disappearance occurred while the facility was closed and was not connected to the club.
"Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends," he said.