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Justo Smoker to serve virtually a life sentence as he confesses to the murder of Linda Stoltzfoos

Officials said that Smoker confessed to Stoltzfoos' murder and led investigators to the body in exchange for not facing the death penalty or life without parole.

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — Justo Smoker will now spend 35.5 to 71 years in a state prison after entering a guilty plea as part of a plea deal in the death of Amish teen Linda Stoltzfoos. 

Investigators said the plea deal was agreed to by the family of Stoltzfoos whose main focus was to 'bring Linda home.' 

As part of the deal, Smoker confessed and led police to the body of Stoltzfoos in Gap in April 2021. In exchange, Smoker would not face the possibility of a death penalty or life without parole. 

The judge accepted the deal and the guilty plea and he sentenced Smoker on Friday. 

Additionally, Smoker could face 17 years in prison for murdering Stoltzfoos while still on parole from previous charges.

In total, Smoker could face a total of 88 years in prison, according to prosecutors.

Smoker will likely not be eligible for parole for more than 52.5 years. 

Six representatives of the Amish community were present in the courtroom Friday.

Sam Blank, a representative of the Stoltzfoos family, spoke on behalf of the community and Linda's parents. He said in court, "we were all Stoltzfoos's that day," when describing the moment Linda disappeared.

He described the fear and disbelief the Amish community felt when Stoltzfoos went missing. He added, "it really felt like our community was violated." The Amish community members in court became tearful as Blank read a letter from Linda's parents that described Linda as caring and with a big heart. Blank noted Linda Stoltzfoos' death leaves behind 'broken dreams.'

Blank spoke directly to Smoker as he sad "the Amish Community and Linda's family will forgive you, Justo." He noted that it would take time to process the emotional pain.

While speaking to the representatives of the Amish Community in court, Smoker became emotional and at moments he was seen in tears. He said, "I cannot undo anything that was done."

He said "I thought I would know what to say, but what words can I say other than I'm sorry?"

Smoker told those in court that he will work to be a better man. He also turned to apologize to his family.

"I was raised better than this. I know better than this," said Smoker. He added, "I was loved better than this. I'm sorry."

The court case revealed new details about the death of Stoltzfoos. Police said she was strangled manually and with shoelaces and stabbed in the neck once. Police said her body was found bound and buried in Gap. Smoker's lawyer told the judge that Smoker was 'depressed' and abusing alcohol at the time of the crime. Smoker's lawyer also discussed that Smoker had faced darkness in his past. The judge said depression and intoxication are not a defense in this case.

Police credit video surveillance collected from a private residence for helping them to crack the crime. They said it captured the abduction on film from around 300 yards away.

Here is a brief timeline of the events surrounding Stoltzfoos' disappearance, the efforts to locate her from volunteers, emergency personnel, and community members, and the arrest of Smoker, who is accused of kidnapping and murdering her. 

  • June 21, 2020 (Father’s Day): Stoltzfoos, 18, never returns home after attending a church service. She is last seen at a farm on Stumptown Road near the village of Bird-in-Hand in Lancaster County.
  • June 22: Stoltzfoos is reported missing. Volunteers from the community and local fire and rescue departments begin searching for her.
  • June 23: Search continues near Enterprise Drive and Old Philadelphia Pike.
  • June 24: The FBI joins East Lampeter Township police in search efforts for Stoltzfoos. The effort included use of dogs, ATV equipment, and drones, while the Lancaster Mounted Police Unit also searches terrain on horseback.
  • June 29: Investigators say they want to talk to anyone who was on Mill Creek School, Stumptown, Gibbons, Beechdale or Millcreek Roads between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on June 21 when Stoltzfoos disappeared.
  • July 1: East Lampeter Township Police ask the public to refrain from spreading rumors about Stoltzfoos' disappearance on social media. 
  • July 2: The FBI releases a composite image of Stoltzfoos dressed in street clothes instead of her traditional Amish garb in an effort to help locate her.
  • July 10: The FBI offers a reward of up to $10,000 for information about Stoltzfoos’ disappearance.
  • July 11: The Lancaster County District Attorney’s office announces an arrest has been made in the disappearance of Stoltzfoos. Justo Smoker, 34, of Paradise Township, is charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment.
  • July 12: The search for Stoltzfoos continues in East Earl Township, as volunteers continue their attempts to locate her.
  • August 5: Smoker is ordered to stand trial on kidnapping and false imprisonment charges after a preliminary hearing. Prosecutors show the judge photos of Smoker's vehicle driving around the site where some of Stoltzfoos' clothing was found buried, along with other details that appear to implicate him in her disappearance.
  • August 13: Smoker waives his formal arraignment and pleads not guilty to the kidnapping and false imprisonment charges against him.
  • September 17: Unsealed court documents reveal Smoker was texting his brother during the window of time in which Stoltzfoos went missing. The documents reveal police asked for search warrants for his car, his phone, his Paradise Township apartment, and a storage locker he rented on the 3300 block of Lincoln Highway in Paradise.
  • December 21: The Lancaster County District Attorney's office announces homicide charges against Smoker. In the announcement, Lancaster County DA Heather Adams says "Smoker’s conduct on and around the time of Linda’s kidnapping, along with physical evidence, supports the allegations that he kidnapped and murdered her."  
  • March 5, 2021:  A preliminary hearing is held on the homicide charges against Smoker. Evidence is presented, and a judge rules that there is enough evidence to charge Smoker with abducting and killing Stoltzfoos.
  • April 21, 2021: Officials announce they have found human remains while searching for Stoltzfoos in a rural part of eastern Lancaster County. The Lancaster County Coroner has confirmed the body was discovered near Dutchland Inc. in Gap, Smoker's former place of employment. Her body was found wrapped in a tarp and buried near railroad tracks on the business' property.
  • April 23, 2021: After performing an autopsy on the human remains found two days earlier, Lancaster County Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni confirms the remains are those of Linda Stoltzfoos. Diamantoni rules asphyxia from strangulation and suffocation as the cause of death. He also says Stoltzfoos suffered a stab wound to the neck and lists the wound as a contributing factor in Stoltzfoos' death.

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