FREEHOLD — The 19-year-old accused of killing Sarah Stern — the young woman whose missing-person case last year set off huge searches throughout central New Jersey — pleaded not guilty to her murder and six other charges Monday.

Liam McAtasney was silent in Monmouth County Superior Court on Monday morning as his lawyer entered not-guilty pleas to first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, first-degree robbery, second-degree conspiracy, second-degree disturbing or desecrating human remains, third-degree hindering apprehension and fourth degree tampering with physical evidence.

Sarah Stern (Courtesy of Lauren Bahr)

Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Meghan Doyle said a sentence of life without parole would be sought by the state in the death of Stern. McAtasney's first pre-trial conference was set for July 10 by Judge Richard English.

Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said McAtasney killed Stern on Dec. 2, stole $10,000 cash from a safe in her home and then drove the Oldsmobile she drove that belonged to her grandmother to the Route 35 bridge connecting Neptune and Belmar, with friend Preston Taylor following in another vehicle. The Oldsmobile was found abandoned on the on the shoulder of the road.

Numerous searches of the water between Asbury Park and Manasquan Inlet have not turned up Stern’s body.

As part of a plea deal, Taylor admitted helping McAtasney throw Stern's body off the bridge when McAtasney was unable to lift it. 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.

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.”

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