A Pennsylvania man has pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in the 2020 death of an 18-year-old Amish girl.
Justo Smoker was sentenced Friday to 35 and a half to 71 years in prison, with an additional 17 and a half years to be added for a parole violation, in the death of Linda Stoltzfoos.
He also pleaded guilty to kidnapping, misuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and possession of a crime instrument.
Although the Stoltzfoos family didn’t appear in court because they felt it was too emotional, Smoker apologized to the family, saying, “I know Linda was a bright spot. The world is darker because of me. All I can say is I’m sorry.’
Justo Smoker, 34, was charged with manslaughter in December in connection with the murder of Stoltzfoos
Linda Stoltzfoos, 18 (left and right), was strangled and stabbed in the neck on June 21 last year as she walked home from church in the Bird-in-Hand area of Lancaster
Family spokesman Samuel Blank described Stoltzfoos as a caring, loving, timid teenager with a big heart for children who needed help.
District Attorney Heather Adams addressed the plea deal that Smoker received and explained that it was necessary to locate Stoltzfoos’ body in order to give her a proper burial.
The young girl’s remains were found in rural Pennsylvania in April, 10 months after her disappearance.
The Lancaster County coroner used dental records to positively identify Linda Stoltzfoos’ body. The cause of death was asphyxiation by strangulation, along with asphyxiation, said coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni, after the autopsy. He said the stab wound was the cause of her death.
Time of Linda’s disappearance
June 21, 2020: Linda doesn’t come home from church
June 22: She has been reported missing
July 11: Justo Smoker, 34, of Paradise Township, is charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment
21st of December: Smoker is accused of criminal manslaughter
March 5, 2021: Judge rules there is enough evidence to charge Smoker with killing teen too
April 21: Human remains have been found
April 22nd: Lancaster County DA Heather Adams says officials are confident the remains are Linda’s
April 2: Lancaster County coroner performs autopsy and rules Stoltzfoos died of strangulation asphyxiation along with asphyxiation
Stoltzfoos was last seen walking home from church in the Bird-in-Hand area on June 21, 2020. Her remains were wrapped in tarpaulin and buried in a 3-foot deep grave along the railroad tracks behind Dutchland Inc. , a company where Smoker had worked . It is located in the small town of Gap along Route 41.
Smoker, 35, of Paradise, was charged with manslaughter in December after being arrested in August. Officials previously said the suspect’s DNA had been discovered on the victim’s stocking.
Mervin Fisher, an uncle of Linda Stoltzfoos, told Pennlive that the family had hoped she would be found alive but had prepared for the worst.
‘Not-knowing is a long, dark, endless tunnel. And when you find the remains, you have the end in sight,” Fisher told Pennlive. “It brings closure, and when there is closure, the healing process can continue.
When the body was discovered, local resident Debbie Matteoda said: “I feel terrible for the family because all this time they hope she might show up, but then it’s another lockdown.”
Prosecutors have said friends and family reported that Stoltzfoos was happy and never expressed a desire to leave.
Smoker was initially charged with kidnapping and felony false imprisonment and then with manslaughter.
Adams said, “Smoker’s behavior at and around the time of Linda’s kidnapping, along with physical evidence, supports the allegations that he kidnapped and killed her.”
Stoltzfoos was reported missing by her father on Father’s Day night after failing to return home from a youth group she planned to attend. According to the investigators, Stoltzfoos never attended the social gathering that evening.
Surveillance footage seen by authorities captured Stoltzfoos walking alone on Beechdale Road, a route she usually took home after church. The images also showed a red Kia Rio that matched Smoker’s license plate.
In Ronks, where the vehicle was parked on June 23, authorities found items of clothing belonging to Stoltzfoos buried in a wooded area, prosecutors said.
“Smoker became a person of interest in the kidnapping after police received information about a red/orange vehicle seen in the Gap area the afternoon of the kidnapping,” East Lampeter Township Police said in a July press release. last year.
“Several witnesses in the area reported seeing an Amish woman in the passenger seat of a man-driven vehicle. Witness descriptions of the driver and vehicle match Smoker and his vehicle.”
The FBI offered a $10,000 reward in July for information leading to her recovery.
The remains were found buried more than three feet deep and wrapped in tarpaulin behind Dutchland Incorporated, Smoker’s former workshop in a rural area in eastern Lancaster County, the DA said.
Christopher Tallarico, the county’s chief public defender, claimed in March that there was no evidence that Stoltzfoos had ever gotten into Smoker’s car, and he elicited testimony that her DNA had not been found on samples taken from the car.
East Lampeter County Detective Christopher Jones said recovered DNA profiles were insufficient for testing.
The smoker has an extensive criminal history dating back to 2005 and has spent most of his adult life behind bars
Smoker has an extensive criminal history dating back to 2005 and has spent most of his adult life behind bars.
He was an all-star wrestling high school with a 3.0 point average and earned a place on the Lancaster-Lebanon all-star wrestling team in 2003 before embarking on a life of crime.
The 35-year-old was sentenced to 12-and-a-half to 30 years in prison after a series of armed robberies in 2006.
Smoker pleaded guilty to the robberies, in which he and his brother, Victor, used a BB pistol to rob four businesses between August 8 and August 13, 2006.
At the trial, Smoker revealed that he was adopted at age seven after “living on the street, just trying to survive,” his lawyer said.
“They raised me better than this,” Smoker told his adoptive parent’s judge. “I’m sorry for what I’ve done and the people I’ve hurt, including my family.”
His adoptive father said that Smoker “has had problems since we got him.”
The judge told Smoker during the 2007 hearing that he could have handed a sentence that would have kept him in prison for twice as long, if not the rest of his life, Lancaster Online reported. But the judge said he issued a sentence that ensures that “society is protected, but you can still come out and live a reasonable life.”
Smoker ended up serving almost the minimum and was released on February 28, 2019.
DA Adams said the area where the remains were found had been previously searched by police
The remains were buried and wrapped in tarpaulin behind Smoker’s former workshop in a rural area in eastern Lancaster County, Adams said.
The remains were found in a rural area in Lancaster County
Bird-in-Hand is known for its large Amish population, and tourists come there to visit the Amish Village Heritage Museum.
Pennsylvania and Ohio have the highest concentration of Amish communities, with 50 in each state.
The Pennsylvania Amish are known for being private individuals who believe that God has called them to a simple life of faith, discipline, devotion, and humility.
They shun technology and believe that the Amish religion should be practiced, not depicted and translated into everyday life rather than focusing on tangible symbols or complicated religious rituals.
Stoltzfoos’ disappearance came a month after a 21-year-old US Air Force pilot was arrested in the death of Mennonite Sunday School teacher Sasha Krause, 27, in Arizona.
Both the Amish and the Mennonites belong to the Anabaptist denomination of Christianity and dress in similar clothes, but unlike the Amish, the Mennonites allow modern technological advancements in their daily lives.