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Soria delay shouldn’t affect trial date

by Christy Chalmers

The trial of a man accused of killing 9-year-old Krystal Steadman should proceed as scheduled despite a delay in a hearing on whether a sexually explicit computer file can be used, attorneys say.

District Judge Dave Gamble began a hearing Monday to determine whether the 17-page text file can be used against Thomas Soria Sr., 39, who is accused of sexually assaulting, kidnapping and murdering Steadman.

Prosecutor Tom Perkins says the file contains descriptions of sexually assaulting, killing and torturing women and girls that are similar to the events surrounding Steadman’s death. Defense attorneys are challenging the warrants investigators used to search the machine.

Several Douglas County sheriff’s investigators testified about their contact with five computer drives taken from Soria Sr.’s apartment on Kahle Drive in Stateline in the days following Steadman’s March 19 murder, but the hearing was postponed because a sergeant was out of town and the defense attorneys want him to testify in person.

The hearing is scheduled to resume Nov. 20. Another hearing on use of DNA evidence will be held Dec. 15, but Gamble and the attorneys said they don’t think the delays will mean postponement of the planned Jan. 17 trial.

Gamble also ordered the computer file sealed based on concerns its contents could taint prospective jurors. Portions of it flickered across a projection screen as William Mannering, a detective with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force, described how he found it.

Mannering said the file had been deleted, but a link in the computer directory identified it as a file called “ped.doc” and showed it had been accessed at 1:46 a.m. March 19.

Steadman disappeared later that day. Her body was found a day later off Highway 50 west of Carson City.

Douglas County investigator Keith Logan said the computer containing the explicit file was found in the apartment’s master bedroom closet, a walk-in space that had been turned into a work area. The computer was surrounded by stuffed animals, toys and games and there were two seats in front of it, he said.

Logan said child predators often use newer technology such as computers and digital cameras because they can conceal their activities, and the closet arrangement made him suspicious.

“It’s a private place,” he said. “It’s also such a private room, well away from the front door of the house.”

Soria’s son, Thomas Jr., 19, previously pleaded guilty to murder and kidnapping and was sentenced to life in prison. During his sentencing hearing, he implied that he lured Steadman to the family’s apartment but his father killed her.

Soria’s Sr.’s lawyers indicated they will try to force the son’s lawyers to disclose any conflicting information they may have garnered.

One of Soria Sr.’s lawyers, John Springgate, said he’s heard statements that “tend to indicate Mr. Soria Jr. was the killer, as opposed to our client.”

Soria Jr. agreed to testify against his father as part of his plea agreement. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty if Soria Sr. is convicted.

A separate trial for Soria Sr. on sexual assault charges that surfaced during the investigation of the Steadman case is scheduled in March.