STATELINE - The man originally arrested in the kidnapping and murder of 9-year-old Krystal Steadman said on Monday that he would plead guilty to the crime.
While Thomas Soria Jr., 19, will not be compelled to testify against his father during the preliminary hearing this week, a statement he made as part of a plea agreement will be used against Thomas Soria Sr.
Soria Jr. will appear in Douglas County District Court this morning to enter his plea. In exchange the Douglas County District Attorney's Office has agreed to dismiss a sexual assault charge against him and promised not to seek the death penalty. The statement was also part of the agreement.
"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 Soria's Sr., who is charged with sexual assault, murder and kidnapping.
"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 Perkins nor attorneys for Soria Sr. would comment on how the son's plea will affect the case against the father.
Soria Sr. was in court throughout the day Monday while witnesses testified during his preliminary hearing.
Testimony is scheduled to continue today in Tahoe Township Justice Court.
Eight witnesses testified Monday about evidence gathered during the investigation and about what Soria Jr. was seen doing March 19 - the day he allegedly met Krystal 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 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 said Krystal had been riding on a similar vehicle driven by Soria Jr. and Krystal's mother Betty Steadman said her daughter told her she had been playing by the truck.
"That was the last time we saw her," Steadman said. "She said she would be right back and she never came back."
Steadman was shaking during her testimony and said she panicked when her daughter disappeared from the Lake Park Apartments in Stateline.
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 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 & Girls Club where he was employed.
The last time the girl saw Krystal 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 Krystal and the court 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, 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 Justice of the Peace Steven McMorris will find enough evidence to hold the father for trial.