A Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty Friday to choking and stabbing an 18-year-old Amish woman in a brutal killing that remained unsolved for nearly a year.
Justo Smoker, 35, could now spend the rest of his life in prison after admitting he strangled Linda Stoltzfoos with his arm under her neck and with shoelaces before stabbing her to “ensure she was dead,” a Lancaster County prosecutor said in an emotional court hearing.
The teen did not know the killer and was attacked while walking home from church in Bird-in-Hand, a small Amish community about 55 miles west of Philadelphia, on June 21, 2020, according to police.
Smoker, a convicted felon who was on parole at the time, was arrested weeks after the murder, but he concealed the location of the victim’s body until three months ago. Her remains were found buried in a makeshift grave near a business where he previously worked, authorities said. It was only then that an autopsy revealed the horrific manner of death.
A spokesman for the Stoltzfoos family told the court that their focus was “totally on finding Linda” and that giving her a proper burial was crucial to them, according to the district attorney’s office. Some of the family members attended Friday’s hearing and watched as Judge David Ashworth imposed a sentence of 35 to 71 years, which Smoker must serve after completing the remaining term of his previous sentence.
Ashworth reportedly called him a “predator of the worst kind, saying the “senseless killing of Linda Stoltzfoos is contrary to all we hold dear in a civilized society.”
Smoker never offered a motive, but he apologized to the family after pleading guilty and said he had “robbed the family of time and memories,” local newspaper LNP reported.
The murderer was about halfway through a 30-year prison sentence for a series of armed robbery and burglary convictions, many of which targeted Amish victims, when he was released on parole in February 2019 — just 16 months before Stoltzfoos was killed. He now faces up to 17 years for violating the terms of his parole and could get a total of up to 88 years behind bars.
“From the outset of this case, we sought to secure justice for Linda, her family and the community,” District Attorney Heather Adams said in a statement. “By bringing Linda home and securing the conviction and effective life-sentence imposed today, there is no question that justice has been served.
“We reached this result today only through the tireless efforts of multiple law enforcement agencies,” she said. “Because of their dedication and unwavering commitment to this case, Linda’s attacker was identified, apprehended, charged with Homicide, and now committed to a sentence that will ensure that he will never have the freedom to harm innocent citizens again.”