FREEHOLD, NJ — A Neptune City man was indicted today for murder and on six other charges in the death of Sarah Stern — just hours after his longtime friend pleaded guilty to six charges and agreed to testify against the accused killer.
A Monmouth County grand jury returned the indictment against Liam McAtasney, 19, formally charging him with murder, robbery, felony murder, conspiracy, disturbing or desecrating human remains, hindering apprehension and tampering with physical evidence. He is facing life without the possibility of parole.
Earlier in the day, Preston Taylor, 19, of Neptune City pleaded guilty to robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, hindering apprehension (two counts), tampering with physical evidence and disturbing or desecrating human remains.
In accepting Taylor’s plea, Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Richard English set a July 21 sentencing date. Taylor faces up to 20 years in prison and would be required to serve 17 years of that term before becoming eligible for parole.
As part of the plea arrangement, Taylor will testify against McAtasney, 19, who detectives determined was responsible for killing Stern, 19, and stealing $10,000 from her on December 2.
The investigation also revealed that Taylor provided assistance to McAtasney in moving and ultimately disposing of Stern’s body in order to avoid detection.
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.
Stern was last seen alive on December 2. Her car was found abandoned early on the morning on December 3 atop the Shark River bridge, where a makeshift memorial of flowers for Stern has since stood for months on the southbound side.
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.
Since her body has not been recovered, the bridge has been the site for numerous police searches — the latest once occurring last Friday afternoon. From about 3:50 to 4:11 p.m. on April 22, the four-lane bridge was closed as investigators watched from atop the structure and a boat from New Jersey State Police Marine Bureau was seen in the waters below.
In addition, Taylor’s plea comes one week after he was denied a request to be freed from jail while his case is pending. He and McAtasney have been in jail since their arrests on February 2.