FREEHOLD, NJ — The Neptune City man found guilty of murdering 19-year-old Sarah Stern, whose body has never been found since she went missing on December 2, 2016, has been sentenced to life without parole.

Liam McAtasney, 21, was sentenced on June 21 to life in a New Jersey state prison without the possibility for parole for first-degree murder by Superior Court Judge Richard W. Englis, according to Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni. 

English also sentenced the defendant to a concurrent term of 20 years on first-degree robbery, a consecutive term of 10 years on second-degree disturbing or desecrating human remains and a concurrent five-year term on third-degree hindering for a total sentence of life without parole consecutive to 10 years.

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McAtasney was found guilty on all counts by a jury on February 26, 2019. A motion for a new trial was heard and denied on May 24, 2019 by English.

The sentence is the culmination of the almost two-month long trial of McAtasney, who was found to have killed and robbed Sarah Stern in her Neptune City residence on the afternoon of December 2, 2016 and then discarded Stern’s body off of the Route 35 bridge between Belmar and Neptune with the assistance of McAtasney’s then-roommate Preston Taylor. Stern’s remains were never found.

Preston Taylor, 19, also of Neptune City, pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree armed robbery, second-degree conspiracy, second-degree desecration of human remains, third-degree hindering apprehension of oneself, third-degree hindering apprehension of another and fourth-degree tampering with evidence.  He faces a sentence up to 20 years when he returns before Judge English on June 28.

Detectives determined that McAtasney was responsible for killing Stern and stealing property from her on December 2, 2016.  The investigation also revealed that Taylor provided assistance to McAtasney in the planning of the robbery and moving and ultimately disposing of Stern’s body in order to avoid detection. 

Trial testimony revealed that at approximately 2 a.m. on Saturday, December 3, 2016, the Neptune Township Police Department responded to an abandoned vehicle on the Route 35 Bridge. Neptune Township Police then contacted the Neptune City Police Department to request a welfare check of the registered owner of the vehicle. Upon arrival at the address of the registered owner, who was Stern’s grandmother, the residence was found unlocked with no one home. Further investigation determined Sarah Stern was the missing driver of the vehicle, and her family did not know of her whereabouts.

As a result of Stern’s vehicle being found unoccupied and on the bridge, the Belmar Water Rescue Team was called to search Shark River for any evidence of her body. It was assisted by the U.S Coast Guard, Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team,Area Network of Shore Water Emergency Responders Team and New Jersey State Police. Divers, boats and helicopters from those units searched the Shark River, but attempts to locate Stern’s body were unsuccessful.

On Sunday, December 4, 2016, detectives from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office joined the investigation in an effort to locate Stern.  Detectives from the prosecutor’s office and the Belmar and Neptune City Police Departments continued to investigate her whereabouts. The New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also assisted in this investigation.

During the investigation, a suspected former friend of McAtasney’s came forward to authorities with information as to McAtasney’s involvement in the killing.  Detectives from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office surreptitiously video-recorded a subsequent conversation between the two men.  In that video, which was played before the jury, McAtasney admitted to the murder and provided graphic details of the slaying.  

Gramiccioni thanked and credited all law enforcement agencies for their efforts in this prosecution.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant Prosecutors Christopher J. Decker, director of the office’s Major Crimes Bureau, and Meghan Doyle, director of the Cold Case and Fatal Accident Unit.

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