The Murder of Krystal Dawn Steadman
On Friday January 26, 2001, Thomas Soria Sr. went on trial before a Douglas County jury for the murder of nine-year-old Krystal Steadman. During their opening arguments, the prosecution claimed Soria Sr. tortured, raped and killed Krystal and afterwards asked his son "to get rid of the body." In turn, defense attorneys told the jury the son committed the murder, then lied his way to a plea bargain and agreed to incriminate his father.
Deputy District Attorney Kris Brown quoted parts of a 17-page text found on Soria Sr.'s computer. The file described fantasies of raping, torturing and killing women and young girls. "He had thoughts of rape. He had thoughts of murder," said Brown. "He acted on those words." Michael Roeser, one of Soria Sr.'s attorneys, didn't deny his client wrote the computer texts. "Ugly thoughts, repugnant thoughts have never killed anybody," he said. "If you raise a child and that child turns into a monster and kills somebody, that doesn't mean you killed somebody."
Brown said Krystal was beaten and assaulted, and DNA evidence identified Soria Sr. as her attacker. Roeser said investigators didn't find fibers or DNA connecting Krystal to the Soria family apartment, despite dissecting the plumbing, flooring and fixtures. Soria Sr. sat expressionless as the lawyers made their arguments. He watched as Krystal's mother, Elizabeth Steadman, testified about the frantic search she started when Krystal didn't check in at the prearranged time. "I had a feeling. I had a sense. I felt something was wrong," she said through tears. After Elizabeth's intense testimony the trial was brought to a close and was set to continue on Monday.
On the morning of Sunday, January 28, 2001, the day before testimony was set to resume, Thomas Robert Soria Sr., who turned 40 just two days earlier, was found dead in his cell at the Douglas County Jail. Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini told reporters from the Sacramento Bee Soria Sr. was being held 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. His body was then transported to the Washoe County Coroner's Office in Reno for an autopsy.
In an interview with the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Tracy Heer, boyfriend of victim Krystal Steadman's sister Sonja Klempner, said, "There's a lot of confusion, but, remember, we did want this man to die. The next six weeks were going to be exhausting," said Heer. "And having to look at (Soria Sr.'s) face and having to hear the testimony and the DNA evidence, it was going to be tough." Heer said he and Sonja received a phone call Sunday morning asking them to go to Krystal's grandparents' home. When they arrived, deputy Douglas County district attorneys Kris Brown and Tom Perkins and investigator Mike Beam met them. "They said Soria was found in his jail cell this morning, dead," Heer said. "There were tears of joy, it was quite overwhelming. This has been a tough and exhausting ten months, we're glad it's over," Heer said.
The Vietnam veteran and member of the Vietnam Veteran's Motorcycle Club, known as Packer, who had arranged two memorials for Krystal, said he couldn't have been happier about Soria Sr.'s death. "Personally, I couldn't find it better and I think (Soria Sr.) saved the taxpayers of this state a whole bunch of money and time," he said. "All I can do is hope that junior keeps following in his father's footsteps."
The following day, Douglas County Judge David Gamble excused the jury with the news that defendant Thomas Robert Soria Sr. had died. Two weeks later the autopsy results for Thomas Soria Sr. were finally released. According to the toxicology reports, Soria Sr. died from an overdose of medication prescribed for depression. According to the Douglas County Sheriff's Department, the antidepressant Amitriptyline had been given to Soria Sr. by a clinical psychologist and administered to him by guards. Apparently Soria been hoarding his medication until he had saved enough to make his last dose fatal.