LANCASTER, Pa. — Note: The video is from Dec. 21, 2020
Update, 3:45 p.m.: Magisterial District Judge Denise Commins determined there is enough evidence to move forward with the homicide charge against Justo Smoker, according to FOX43's Grace Griffaton, who was in attendance at Smoker's preliminary hearing Friday afternoon.
Smoker's defense attorney Chris Tallarico asked the judge to dismiss the murder charge against his client. He argued that there is no certainty Linda Stoltzfoos got into Smoker's car.
Meanwhile, Assistant District Attorney Todd Brown, a prosecutor in the case, said failure to produce a body should not prevent prosecution. He called it a "forcible kidnapping" saying Smoker kidnapped and killed Stoltzfoos.
Commins ultimately ruled there is enough evidence to proceed.
Smoker's arraignment has been scheduled for March 26.
During the preliminary hearing, First Assistant Todd E. Brown called Detective Chris Jones of the East Lampeter Township Police Department, who was the sole witness in the 90-minute hearing.
Evidence presented at the hearing included:
- There has been a complete cessation of all activities of Linda Stoltzfoos since she disappeared on June 21, 2020.
- No one has had contact with Linda since her unexpected disappearance in June of last year.
- Despite numerous and wide-reaching efforts by law enforcement, Stoltzfoos has not been located through missing persons databases.
- Witness statements, video surveillance and cell phone records indicate that Smoker travelled to the Eastern side of the County, to include remote areas within the Welsh Mountains, after the disappearance of Stoltzfoos.
- Cell phone data indicates that Smoker then travelled to the area of 3104 Harvest Drive, where stockings and a bra allegedly belonging to Stoltzfoos were found buried in the ground.
- Smoker’s DNA profile was found on the stockings that were found buried in the ground.
- Smoker was seen cleaning his car after Stoltzfoos’ disappearance.
- On the day before Stoltzfoos’ disappearance, other Amish females described incidents of a male in a red car following them closely in the area of the kidnapping. Cell phone data corroborates that Smoker’s cell phone was in the area on the dates and times of the concerned Amish witnesses.
- Within hours prior to the kidnapping and the stalking incidents described by other Amish females, Smoker purchased alcohol and gloves and several pairs of shoe and boot laces which were never recovered.
Brown argued in his summation that all evidence points to the inevitable conclusion that Stoltzfoos is deceased by criminal agency and at the hands of Smoker.
Prosecutors will move for consolidation of the charge of homicide with the previously filed charges of kidnapping and false imprisonment for purposes of trial.
The Paradise Township man accused of abducting and killing Linda Stoltzfoos last June is scheduled to appear in Lancaster County Court today for a preliminary hearing.
Justo Smoker, 34, is scheduled to appear before District Judge Denise Commons at 1:30 p.m. in the Lancaster County Courthouse. He was charged on July 10, 2020 with kidnapping and false imprisonment related to the 18-year-old Amish woman's disappearance on June 21.
Smoker waived his formal arraignment on those charges in August 2020, effectively pleading not guilty.
On December 21, Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams charged Smoker with criminal homicide in the case.
In a preliminary hearing, prosecutors must present sufficient evidence that a crime was committed, that the suspect is probably responsible, and that the case should be heard by a judge or jury.
The defendant has the right to waive the hearing.
Stoltzfoos was last seen leaving a church service to walk home to her family's farm on June 21. She was reported missing a day later.
Investigators determined Smoker was a suspect when a homeowner's surveillance video camera showed what they believe to be Smoker's car near where a woman believed to be Stoltzfoos is seen walking alone along Beechdale Road, less than a half-mile from her family's farm, on the day she disappeared.
The car drives out of view, but a male later returns on foot and approaches the woman. The two then walk out of frame in the direction of where the vehicle was last seen.
Multiple witnesses interviewed by police said they saw an Amish woman sitting in the passenger seat of a red Kia sedan on the day she disappeared, with a man resembling Smoker behind the wheel.
Smoker owns a red Kia sedan.
Stoltzfoos' bra and stockings were found buried behind a business where a vehicle resembling Smoker's Kia was seen by a witness, who photographed the vehicle.
Police later determined the vehicle's registration linked it to Smoker.
A zip tie was also found with Stoltzfoos' belongings, police said.
Authorities interviewed Smoker twice before charging him with kidnapping. In the first interview, he allegedly denied being in the area or recognizing Stoltzfoos' photo. But when police showed him a photo of his car at the business where her belongings were found, he said the car appeared to be his.
Police searched Smoker's home, car, and a storage unit registered to Smoker for evidence related to the case.
When she announced the homicide charge against Smoker, Adams released court documents that revealed the evidence she used to support the additional charge.
Among the evidence listed:
- The Pennsylvania State Police crime lab pinpointed Smoker's DNA on Linda Stoltzfoos' stockings which were found buried in the ground.
- During the investigation, authorities also found an opened bottle of bleach in Smoker's car
- A witness and Smoker confirmed online he cleaned his car the day Linda was last seen.
- The documents go on to state Smoker purchased gloves and black shoe laces -- neither of which were found in his apartment, car, storage unit, and work locker.
- The documents state evidence suggests Smoker threw away his shoes and car mats which authorities say are commonly known to contain trace evidence.
- Authorities believe Smoker stalked other women in his red Kia Rio in the area the day before Stoltzfoos disappeared
A Brief Timeline of Events in the Disappearance of Linda Stoltzfoos:
- June 21 (Father’s Day), 2020: Stoltzfoos, 18, never returned home from church.
- June 22, 2020: Stoltzfoos is reported missing. Volunteers search for her.
- June 23, 2020: Search continues near Enterprise Drive and Old Philadelphia Pike.
- June 24, 2020: FBI joins East Lampeter Twp police in search efforts for Stoltzfoos.
- June 29, 2020: Investigators say they want to talk to anyone who was on Mill Creek School, Stumptown, Gibbons, Beechdale or Millcreek Roads between 8am and 4pm on Sunday, June, 21 when Stoltzfoos disappeared.
- July 10, 2020: FBI offers a reward of up to $10,000 for information about Stoltzfoos’ disappearance.
- July 11, 2020 : Lancaster County District Attorney’s office announces arrest has been made in the disappearance of Stoltzfoos. Justo Smoker, 34, of Paradise Township, is charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment.
- December 21, 2020: Lancaster County District Attorney's office announces homicide charges against Justo Smoker, 34.
- March 5, 2021: Justo Smoker has a preliminary hearing scheduled for the criminal homicide charge in Lancaster County Court