FREEHOLD, NJ — Liam McAtasney of Neptune City pleaded not guilty on all charges in connection with a robbery plot that led to the murder of longtime friend Sarah Stern.
The plea was entered on May 15 during an arraignment before Superior Court Judge Richard English, who set a pretrial conference date of July 10.
Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Meghan Doyle said the state will seek a life sentence without parole in the case against the 19-year-old, 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 was charged on February 2 in connection with the murder of Stern, who last seen alive on December 2. Detectives determined that he was responsible for killing Stern and stealing property from her on that date. 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 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 last month they will continue to search the waters of the Shark River below the Route 35 bridge for Stern’s body — in hopes of giving closure to her family.