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Homicide trial ordered in young Amish woman’s disappearance

March 7, 2021 GMT

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — A man has been ordered to stand trial on a homicide charge in the disappearance of a young Amish woman in Pennsylvania last summer.

LNP newspaper reports that a Lancaster County judge ruled Friday that prosecutors had presented sufficient evidence for the trial of 34-year-old Justo Smoker of Paradise in the disappearance of 18-year-old Linda Stoltzfoos, who was last seen walking home from church June 21 in the Bird-in-Hand area.

Prosecutors say no sign of her has been found since, and friends and family report that Stoltzfoos was happy with her life and had never expressed any desire to leave. In fact, they say, she had made plans to join others in a church youth group the day she disappeared.

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Smoker was charged with homicide in December and was earlier charged with a felony kidnapping count and misdemeanor false imprisonment. Authorities said surveillance video enhanced by FBI forensic technicians showed a red sedan, the same kind of car owned by the defendant, involved in the abduction.

In a rural location in Ronks where they believe the victim might have been taken and where the vehicle was seen parked June 23, authorities found items of Stoltzfoos’ clothing buried in a wooded area, prosecutors said. A DNA profile “attributable to Smoker” was found on one of her buried stockings, prosecutors have said.

Christopher Tallarico, the county’s chief public defender, argued Friday there was no proof that Stoltzfoos had ever gotten into Smoker’s car, and he elicited testimony that her DNA wasn’t found on samples taken from the car. East Lampeter Township Detective Christopher Jones said DNA profiles recovered were insufficient to test.

Jones also testified that FBI analysis of Smoker’s cell phone data showed him proceeding from the kidnapping area to the rugged, largely rural Welsh Mountain area, which along with the kidnapping scene has been the subject of numerous searches by hundreds of people. Jones said investigators continue to search for the victim.

First Assistant District Attorney Todd Brown said no decision has been made on whether to seek the death penalty. Smoker will be formally arraigned March 26 on the homicide charge; he pleaded not guilty earlier to the kidnapping and false imprisonment charges.