Real Crime Blog

Trial Notes: The Murder of Sarah Stern

A Neptune Township police officer investigates Sarah Stern’s vehicle in a still from a dashboard camera video taken on December 3, 2016.

The Crime

In a grand jury hearing in a Monmouth County, NJ, courtroom on April 24, 2017, Preston Taylor, 19, of Neptune City, NJ, pleaded guilty to his role in the robbery, murder, and disposal of the remains of his childhood friend and junior prom date Sarah Stern, 19. The other man charged with Stern’s murder is another friend and former Neptune High classmate, Liam McAtasney, 19.

The Case

The motive was financial, according to Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni. Taylor told the Grand Jury that McAtasney told him he had gone with Stern to the bank on December 2, 2016, where she withdrew money. “And then [they] went back to Sarah’s house,” he told the court, “and then he strangled her and hid her body in a downstairs bathroom.” Taylor says that McAtasney told him “what to do,” which was go to her house. Taylor moved Stern’s body, hiding it in the yard. Next, he says that he and McAtasney drove Stern’s car (with her body in the passenger seat) and McAtasney’s car to a local bridge. “He was unable to lift her body over the railing,” Taylor said of McAtastney. Together, they threw her body over the side. They left her keys in the car to make it look like a suicide.

The Future

After the plea agreement, Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni, said that Taylor had “accepted responsibility and agreed to cooperate with the state” in the continuing prosecution of McAtasney. Prosecutors will next present evidence on McAtasney to the Grand Jury. If they recommend sending it to trial, Gramiccioni (with Assistant Prosecutor Meghan Doyle), speaking to the press after the plea agreement, said that their new bail reform system ensures that the trial must happen within six months, which would put it toward the end of the year. He also said that they continue to look for Sarah Stern’s remains: “We’re not going to give up that search. That’s one of the most important things we can do is bring some closure by recovering Sarah for Mr. Stern and those that loved her.” Taylor’s sentencing will be adjourned until after his cooperation with the potential case against McAtasney.

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(Image: Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office/The Asbury Park Press via AP)

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