What to Know
- 19-year-old Sarah Stern was allegedly robbed, killed and then dumped over a bridge back in 2016
- The trial for Liam McAtasney, one of two defendants in the case, began Wednesday with opening statements
- In 2017, the second defendant, Preston Taylor, entered a guilty plea to seven counts, including robbery and tampering with physical evidence
The man accused of strangling a New Jersey student to death in 2016 dragged the teen's body out of her home with help from an accomplice and threw her over a fence "like garbage" before driving to a bridge and tossing her into the water, prosecutors said on the first day of his trial.
The trial for Liam McAtasney, one of two defendants in the case of 19-year-old Sarah Stern, began Wednesday.
During opening remarks, Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Meghan Doyle said she planned to describe how McAtasney strangled Stern inside her Neptune City home on Dec. 2, 2016.
“Sarah Stern will not be walking through that door,” Doyle told the jury. “She will never hug her father again.”
Prosecutors say McAtasney murdered Stern in the course of committing a robbery.
During his own opening remarks Wednesday, McAtasney’s attorney Carlos Diaz-Cobo indicated that the defense’s arguments could center on the fact that Stern’s body was never found.
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A witness will testify to seeing someone on the bridge the night of the alleged murder who looked like Stern, Diaz-Cobo said.
Diaz-Cobo also implied that Stern’s allegedly “strained” relationship with her father could have played a role in her disappearance. The attorney claimed Stern’s father may have been verbally abusive and asserted Stern had talked about going to Canada.
“The entire trial, you will be asking, ‘Something’s not right. Something is missing,” Diaz-Cobo said.
During opening remarks Wednesday, Doyle claimed McAtasney participated in a search for Stern after her disappearance in an attempt to cover his tracks.
A week before Stern disappeared, McAtasney told a friend he planned to strangle Stern and make it look like a suicide, Doyle said.
McAtasney’s friend, an aspiring horror filmmaker, didn’t take McAtasney seriously, Doyle said — believing his friend was simply describing an idea for a horror film.
The second defendant, Preston Taylor, is expected to testify against McAtasney after opening remarks Wednesday afternoon. Prosecutors say Taylor helped McAtasney drag Stern’s body out of her house and throw her over the Route 35 Bridge in Belmar.
Taylor entered a guilty plea to seven counts back in 2017, including robbery and tampering with physical evidence.
Stern, an aspiring artist, was a graduate of Neptune High School, where she played softball and was a member of the swim team. She went to Brookdale Community College for a year, where she studied art and TV production.
Prosecutors have said McAtasney was motivated by robbery in part and stole thousands of dollars from Stern. Cash was found in a safe buried at a park in Neptune. Stern's clothing was found in another safe buried on Sandy Hook.
A grand jury has indicted McAtasney on seven counts, including first-degree murder, the prosecutor's office said. He faces life without parole if convicted.
At a previous court hearing, prosecutors said Taylor — who took Stern to junior prom — told police McAtasney had planned Stern's slaying for six months.