Man accused of raping, killing 9-year-old girl pleads innocent

MINDEN - A January trial date has been set for the father accused with his son of killing a 9-year-old girl and prosecutors announced Tuesday they will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.

Thomas Robert Soria Sr., 39, pleaded innocent Tuesday to charges of murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in the death of Krystal Steadman. His trial will start Jan. 17 and is expected to last three weeks.

Soria Sr. also pleaded innocent in an unrelated case that surfaced during the murder investigation. Douglas District Judge Dave Gamble set a March 26, 2001, trial for the single count of sexual assault Soria Sr. faces in that case.

Soria and his son Thomas Jr. are accused of killing Krystal, who disappeared March 19 from a parking lot at the Lake Park Apartments in Stateline, where the Sorias lived. Her battered body was found a day later off Highway 50.

Soria Jr. pleaded guilty to murder and kidnapping. In exchange, two counts of sexual assault were dropped and prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty in his case. He may testify against his father.

Prosecutors confirmed Tuesday they will seek the death penalty against Soria Sr. if he is convicted. Deputy District Attorney Tom Perkins said the decision followed a review of evidence and meetings with investigators and Crystal's family members.

"I think (the family) supports us on what we're doing," he said.

Though Judge Gamble initially mentioned an October date for the murder trial, Soria Sr.'s attorneys said they wouldn't have enough time to file and argue the various motions that are expected in the coming months. They wanted a March 2001 date but settled on the January date.

"It's going to be tough on our witnesses, tough on us and tough on the family, but if it's set like this we know everything will be done properly," said Perkins.

Gamble also scheduled a series of hearings, starting in August, to handle questions that arise as the trial date approaches. Soria Sr.'s attorneys, John Springgate and Michael Roeser, indicated they will file a lengthy argument on the admissibility of DNA tests that were used to link Soria Sr. to Crystal's murder.

During an earlier hearing, the defense attorneys said the tests are unreliable because their methodology hasn't faced independent scrutiny. They also said investigators turned up little other evidence linking Soria Sr. to Crystal's killing.

Despite the defense team's objection to the previous DNA tests, they did agree to allow tissue fragments found in Crystal's fingernails to be tested. A formal agreement was filed just after Tuesday's hearing.

Soria Sr. remains in the Douglas County jail without bail. Soria Jr. is also being held without bail pending his sentencing hearing in July.


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