Sarah Stern’s convicted killer gets life in prison without parole
FREEHOLD BOROUGH — Liam McAtasney was sentenced Friday afternoon to life in prison with no chance of parole for the murder of Sarah Stern.
It was the mandatory sentence for the conviction in the December 2016 slaying.
Stern's car was found on the Route 35 bridge between Belmar and Neptune, triggering a search that McAtasney and his convicted accomplice participated in. Stern's body has never been found.
The Superior Court judge also sentenced McAtasney to concurrent terms of 20 years for first-degree robbery and five years for third-degree hindering. He must first serve a consecutive 10-year sentence for disturbing or desecrating human remains.
Stern's father Michael addressed the court before sentencing and said his daughter's death "broke his spirit," according to the Asbury Park Press.
The prosecutor said McAtasney's tears in the courtroom were "fake" and that he had no remorse.
After the verdict, Stern said he believed "we finally got justice for Sarah."
"She was a good kid, a talented artist, she was a rising star. Her life ended way too soon. I miss her. I cry for her every night. I am just glad that justice is finally served," he said.
Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni after the verdict said McAtasney will "go down in history as one on Monmouth County’s most heinous killers here."
Gramiccioni said McAtasney would have deserved the death penalty if New Jersey still allowed it. The state abolished capital punishment in 2007.
“It’s tragic that nothing can bring Sarah back from the crimes that Liam and Preston committed but I hope that this gives her some kind of restful sleep, some kind of peace to know that the person that snuffed out her life will spend the rest of his life behind bars," he said.
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 and then disposed of the body in the Shark River Inlet.
McAtasney has denied killing Stern and his defense suggested alternative possibilities, including that Stern could have killed herself or run away.
The jury returned guilty verdicts on all seven counts with which he was charged: 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.
Prosecutors said McAtasney killed Stern 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.
Originally scheduled for May 24, sentencing was delayed twice. One of the delays was a motion by McAtasney's lawyer to toss the verdict, which was rejected by a judge.
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