Jury finds Liam McAtasney guilty of Sarah Stern’s murder
FREEHOLD BOROUGH — A jury found Liam McAtasney guilty of the robbery and murder of Sarah Stern, whose car was found abandoned on a bridge two years ago but whose body was never recovered.
McAtasney, 21, faces life in prison with no chance of parole when he is sentenced. He was found guilty of all seven counts with which he was charged: 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.
The trial lasted eight weeks.
Stern disappeared in December 2016. Her car was found on the Route 35 bridge in Belmar. Prosecutors said McAtasney killed her and then he and friend Preston Taylor threw her body off the bridge over the Shark River Inlet.
Taylor pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery, second-degree conspiracy to commit robbery, and second-degree disturbing or desecrating human remains, and agreed to testify against McAtasney. Taylor had been Stern's senior prom date in high school.
The panel got the case late Monday afternoon and deliberated for about two hours before the end of the day. On Tuesday, they reviewed a secretly recorded conversation in which an emotionless McAtasney discussed in detail how he killed Stern in her Neptune City home for her inheritance and disposed of her body.
The panel also reviewed McAtasney's taped interviews with police and a neighbor's surveillance video.
Defense attorney Carlos Diaz-Cobo called the recorded conversation an elaborate lie that McAtasney told to impress the amateur horror filmmaker with whom he was conversing. The lawyer compared it to an audition.
The defense also presented a witness who testified that he saw a woman who looked like Stern alive a day after she was reported missing. The defense tried to convince the jury that McAtasney could not be guilty of murder unless there was a body.
In the video, McAtasney described how he watched Stern urinate herself as he strangled her. He complained that her dog sat silently during the slaying, which he knew lasted for about half an hour because he had set a timer.
McAtasney also told his filmmaker friend that he had pretended to befriend Stern and had spent months plotting the slaying.
Authorities also found the money that McAtasney had told the friend he buried at Sandy Hook.
'Justice is served'
The victim's father, Michael Stern, said after the verdict that "justice was served" even though he didn't think it should have come to trial.
"The evidence was in two years ago. I don’t understand what the fight was about. He should have just pled guilty two years ago," he said.
"It was sickening, heart-wrenching and hurtful that someone who pretended to be her friend did that to her without any remorse. Its painful, it’s sad and it's unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life before," a sad but composed Stern said during a news conference with prosecutors outside Superior Court.
"He was never Sarah’s friend. His evil thoughts and motive are beyond anything I can imagine being so evil."
Stern said he is looking forward to exhibiting his daughter's artwork.
"Sarah’s up in heaven; she's an angel. She was just a beautiful person. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body. She was a great artist and hopefully we’ll be able to get her artwork on display someplace," he said.
Both Stern and Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Megan Doyle thanked the filmmaker, Anthony Curry, for his cooperation and courage.
Earlier this month the judge denied the defense request for a mistrial after two jurors had to be kicked off the panel.
The female juror was dismissed for a Facebook posting that stated "Sitting on the jury laughing my a— off." The juror has said her 15-year-old sister made the post. The second juror was dismissed after she contacted to the first juror to find out why she hadn't shown up to court.
McAtasney has been held at the Monmouth County Jail since his arrest.
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