Guilty! Teen admits throwing Sarah Stern’s body off Route 35 bridge
FREEHOLD — One Sarah Stern's former classmates has admitted throwing her lifeless body from a Route 35 bridge — taking a plea deal and agreeing to testify against the friend accused of killing her during a robbery at the Stern home.
Preston Taylor, 19, of Neptune City, accepted the deal on Monday at the Monmouth County Courthouse in Freehold, pleading guilty to seven counts related to Stern's robbery and death. In exchange, prosecutors dropped a felony murder charge.
Under questioning by Assistant Prosecutor Chris Decker Monday, Taylor gave a step-by-step account of the events surrounding Stern's death — saying he helped friend Liam McAtasney throw Stern's body over the bridge between Neptune City and Belmar on Dec. 2.
Asked by a prosecutor what happened, with Stern's father in the courtroom, Taylor said "She was killed by Liam and we threw her body off the Belmar Bridge.”
Dekcer asked Preston Taylor, “She is no longer with us, correct?” Taylor answered, "Yes."
Taylor said he had known in advance of McAtasney's plans to rob and kill Stern — "He came up with a few ideas to kill her and dispose of the body," Taylor said.
Prosecutors have previously said McAtasney admitted in a conversation with a friend identified only as "A.C." that he strangled Stern to death, lifted her in the air and “then left her on the floor and watched her die for 30 minutes."
Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni has said McAtasney drove an Oldsmobile belonging to Stern’s grandmother to the bridge, with Taylor following in another vehicle. The Oldsmobile was found abandoned on the on the shoulder of the road.
Taylor said McAtasney had been "unable to lift her body,” so he helped toss her over the bridge. Taylor said that McAtasney told him if that if he was ever questioned about Stern's disappearance, he should say she'd had a falling out with her father, and had attempted suicide.
Many searches of the water between Asbury Park and Manasquan Inlet have not turned up Stern's body.
Taylor said the pair agreed to split up $10,000 taken from a safe in the Stern home. He'd been promised $3,000, he said.
Taylor said they two moved the cash from the Stern safe into another belonging to McAtasney. The safe was buried in Shark River Park in Wall Township, he said. McAtasney's safe was buried in Sandy hook, Taylor said. Authorities later turned up both.
Assistant Prosecutor Meghan Doyle previously said McAtasney spent the next two months “calculating every one of his moves to continue to cover up the murder and death of Sarah Stern.”
“He lied to police. He conducted a search with friends and family of Ms. Stern because he thought that that would alleviate his guilt,” Doyle previously said. “He admitted that he pretended to make their friendship more than it was so that people would not focus on him as a suspect.”
Taylor faces up to 20 years in state prison and is subject to the No Early Release Act. He pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery, second-degree conspiracy to commit robbery, second-degree distributing or desecrating human remains, two counts of third-degree hindering apprehension and fourth-degree tampering with physical evidence.
His sentencing will be adjourned until later in the year, pending McAtasney's trial. McAtasney's case heads to a grand jury today.
Dino Flammia contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.