FREEHOLD, NJ — Statements made to authorities by murder suspect Liam McAtasney at the Belmar Police Department shortly after the disappearance of Sarah Stern in December 2016 can be heard at his trial, according to the latest court ruling in the case.
Superior Court Judge Richard English ruled on February 22 that when the 20-year-old Neptune City man was interviewed during the early morning of December 3, 2016 in Belmar, it was during an investigation of what was then a missing person case. He also was questioned the following day and on December 6, 2016 for the same reason, according to the court.
In ruling that the statements would be allowed, English said the police were not at that time questioning McAtasney as a murder suspect, but as a person who may have known Stern’s whereabouts after her car was found abandoned on the Shark River bridge on Route 35 at about 3 a.m. on December 3, 2016.
In those taped conversations with police, McAtasney offered his opinion as to why Stern, 19, might have wanted to leave her Neptune City home or even end her own life — claims that Stern’s family have maintained are false, according to court documents.
English did not rule whether the jury will be allowed to see a video between McAtasney and a cooperating witness in which McAtasney is claimed by authorities to admit his guilty in the case. That decision is expected at the next hearing, scheduled for March 26.
McAtasney pleaded not guilty on May 15, 2017 on all charges in connection to a robbery plot that led to the murder of Stern, whose body has not been recovered.
The state is seeking a life sentence without parole in the case against McAtasney, who was indicted last April on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, first-degree robbery, second-degree conspiracy, second-degree disturbing or desecrating human remains, third-degree hindering apprehension and fourth-degree tampering with physical evidence.
Because of the aggravating factors, McAtasney is facing life without the possibility of parole.
McAtasney, who remains in custody at Monmouth County Correctional Institution, was charged on February 2, 2017 in connection with the murder of Stern, who last seen alive on December 2, 2016.
Detectives determined that McAtasney was responsible for killing Stern and stealing property from her on December 2. The investigation also revealed that Preston Taylor, 19, of Neptune City provided assistance to McAtasney in moving and ultimately disposing of Stern's body in order to avoid detection.
Last April, Taylor pleaded guilty to robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, hindering apprehension (two counts), tampering with physical evidence and disturbing or desecrating human remains. As part of the plea arrangement, Taylor will testify against McAtasney.
According to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Taylor said he knew McAtasney would rob and kill Stern, a longtime friend of McAtasney and Taylor. As part of that plan, Taylor said he always knew that he would get $3,000 of Stern’s money when she was robbed. The pair split up Stern’s money and buried her safe in Shark River Park, Neptune.
Taylor, who was Stern’s junior prom date several years earlier, said he never called police and never backed out of McAtasney's plans to rob and kill her, according to prosecutors.
It is alleged that the men threw Stern’s body into the Shark River from the Route 35 bridge, which connects Belmar and Neptune City and is just minutes from Stern’s home. Their actions were to make it appear that Stern committed suicide.
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