No new trial for Sarah Stern’s convicted killer — Sentencing in June
FREEHOLD BOROUGH — The man convicted of killing 19-year-old Sarah Stern will not be granted a new trial after a Superior Court judge on Friday rejected his argument that the verdict was a "miscarriage of justice," the Asbury Park Press is reporting.
Sentencing for Liam McAtasney, who in February was found guilty of the robbery and murder of his Neptune City friend in December 2016, had been scheduled for today but the sentencing was postponed after his attorney sought to throw out the verdict.
The 21-year-old faces life in prison when he is sentenced 9 a.m. June 14.
McAtasney's trial lasted eight weeks and included testimony from his confessed accomplice as well as an undercover video in which McAtasney coldly recounts how he strangled Stern for her inheritance, timing it at 30 minutes, and then threw her body into the Shark River Inlet. Her body was never recovered.
The jury returned guilty verdicts on first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, first-degree robbery, first-degree tampering with evidence, second-degree desecration of human remains, second-degree conspiracy to desecrate human remains, and second-degree hindering apprehension.
His accomplice, Preston Taylor, pleaded guilty and also awaits sentencing.
McAtasney's attorney argued last month that he did not get a fair trial because potential jurors had been asked whether a lack of a body in a murder case would affect their ability to return a fair verdict. During trial, the defense had posited the theory that Stern may have committed suicide or run away.
Attorney Carlos Diaz-Cobo also argued last month that McAtasney should have gotten a new trial after a juror posted on Facebook that she was "on this trial lmao." The juror was kicked off the panel because jurors are not supposed to discuss the case, even among themselves. Five other jurors later admitted that they knew that the dismissed juror had posted something on social media. As a result, the judge dismissed a second juror.
The defense said the jury also faced "outside influences" when they were waiting to be brought into the courtroom and they were approached by a person who said "guilty, guilty, guilty." (One of the jurors says they heard the person say "not guilty.")
The defense motion also argued that the judge should have tossed the robbery and felony murder charges because "there was no use of force or threat of force during the commission of a theft." The defense said that even if Stern were murdered, the money and safes were taken hours after her death.
Prosecutors said McAtasney and Taylor spent six months plotting the murder in order to steal Stern's inheritance from her mother. Officials found the loot hidden in Sandy Hook after Taylor took investigators to the scene.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.