Sarah Stern’s killer says he went with her to bank before murder — alleged recording
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NEPTUNE CITY — The man accused of strangling his friend before dumping her body over the Belmar Bridge admitted to a double-crossing confidant that he went with the victim to the bank on the day of the murder and stole $7,000 from her home.
New details in the sensational Sarah Stern murder case came to light Thursday after prosecutors released court documents that detailed probable cause for the arrests of Liam McAtasney and Preston Taylor, the 19-year-old roommates accused in the killing and dumping of Stern’s body. Copies of the documents were posted online by the Asbury Park Press.
Both defendants remain locked up waiting for their cases to be presented to a grand jury.
Stern was reported missing Dec. 3. While her body has not been found, prosecutors are relying on the alleged chilling confession by the man who has been charged in the murder he allegedly plotted for six months. The recording of that confession, prosecutors say, has been corroborated by his accused accomplice, who led police to physical evidence.
Authorities say McAtasney admitted to a friend — identified in court documents only as “A.C.” — in a secretly recorded conversation that he strangled Stern on Dec. 2 at her home after going with her to the bank, where she accessed her safety deposit box. After strangling Stern, McAtasney left her body behind and took a safe with $7,000, according to the alleged recording.
McAtasney also told his friend that after the deed, he called Taylor — who agreed to move Stern’s lifeless body outside, where he hid her under some bushes for several hours.
McAtasney later placed Stern’s body into the front passenger seat of her car and drove it to the Belmar Bridge, where Taylor met him in his own car.
The two threw Stern’s body over the side of the Route 35 bridge into the river and then left in Taylor’s car, abandoning Stern’s car on the bridge, according to McAtasney’s alleged recounting in the recording.
McAtasney also allegedly told A.C. that he buried the $7,000 in Sandy Hook.
Investigators said that Taylor confessed to police, admitting to much of what McAtasney allegedly stated in the recording.
Investigators say Taylor took police to the safe at Sandy Hook and also to a second safe hidden at Shark River Park.
At a detention hearing this month, prosecutors say McAtasney described in the recording how he strangled Stern to death by lifting her in the air. He then watched her die on the floor for 30 minutes, prosecutors say.
The affidavits of probable cause say both suspects lied when police spoke to them less than a week after Stern was reported missing on Dec. 3.
The court is not publicly releasing the secret recording made by A.C. on Jan. 31, just two days before both suspects were arrested, although it may be played at the eventual trials.
A Superior Court judge also sealed the Dec. 6 interview of McAtasney, the Dec. 7 and Feb. 1 interviews of Taylor, the Jan. 24 and Feb. 10 formal statements by A.C., and city police investigative reports into the arrests.
In the request for an order to seal the records, prosecutors note that A.C. "has expressed concerns for his safety and reluctance about participating in the defendants' investigation and prosecution," adding that he could face "media harassment" and "possible retaliation" if his identity is revealed.
McAtasney is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, first-degree robbery, second-degree desecration of human remains, second-degree conspiracy to desecrate human remains and second-degree hindering apprehension.
Taylor is charged with second-degree desecration of human remains, second-degree conspiracy to desecrate human remains and second-degree hindering apprehension.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.