FREEHOLD, NJ — The Neptune City man charged in the death of Sarah Stern has asked the court to change the venue for his trial and to suppress evidence of a recorded conversation that allegedly implicates him in the murder.
Liam McAtasney, 19, appeared before Superior Court Judge Richard English on July 10 for a pretrial conference, where the motions were made public by his attorney Charles Moriarty, according to court officials.
It was his first court appearance since he pleaded not guilty on May 15 on all charges in connection to a robbery plot that led to the murder of Stern, whose body has not been recovered.
A September 7 date has been set for English to hear the motion to suppress the recording between McAtasney and a cooperating witness in which McAtasney is claimed by authorities to admit his guilty in the case. The motion on the venue change is before Superior Court Judge Lisa Thornton with a hearing date not yet set at this time.
The state is seek a life sentence without parole in the case against McAtasney, who was indicted in 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 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.
In 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.
Meanwhile, investigators said they will continue to search the waters below the Route 35 bridge in Belmar for Stern’s body — in hopes of giving closure to her family.
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