FREEHOLD – A Neptune City man has been sentenced to 18 years in prison in connection with the murder of 19-year-old Sarah Stern, who went missing on December 2, 2016, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.
On June 28, 2019, Preston Taylor, 22, of Neptune City was sentenced by the Honorable Richard W. English, J.S.C. to 18 years in a New Jersey state prison, subject to the provisions of the No Early Release Act (NERA) requiring him to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed before becoming eligible for release on parole, for first degree Armed Robbery, second degree Conspiracy, second degree Desecration of Human Remains, third degree Hindering Apprehension of Oneself, third degree Hindering Apprehension of Another and fourth degree Tampering with Evidence. Upon release, Taylor would be subject to the provisions of parole supervision for five years.
Taylor pleaded guilty on April 24, 2017, to his role in the 2016 robbery and murder of 19-year old Sarah Stern by Taylor’s roommate Liam McAtasney. Taylor assisted McAtasney in discarding Stern’s body off of the Route 35 Bridge between Belmar and Neptune. Stern’s remains were never found.
McAtasney was sentenced on June 21, 2019, by Judge English, to Life Without Parole, plus ten years in a New Jersey state prison.
Detectives determined that McAtasney was responsible for killing Stern and stealing property from her on December 2, 2016. The investigation also revealed that Taylor provided assistance to McAtasney in the planning of the robbery and moving and ultimately disposing of Stern's body in order to avoid detection.
Trial testimony revealed that at approximately 2 a.m. on Saturday December 3, 2016, the Neptune Township Police Department responded to an abandoned vehicle on the Route 35 Bridge. Neptune Township Police then contacted the Neptune City Police Department to request a welfare check of the registered owner of the vehicle. Upon arrival at the address of the registered owner, who was Stern’s grandmother, the residence was found unlocked but no one was home. Further investigation determined Sarah Stern was the missing driver of the vehicle and her family did not know of her whereabouts.
As a result of Stern’s vehicle being found unoccupied and on the bridge, the Belmar Water Rescue Team was called to search Shark River for any evidence of her body. The Belmar Water Rescue Team was assisted by the United States Coast Guard, the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team, the Area Network of Shore Water Emergency Responders Team and the New Jersey State Police. Divers, boats and helicopters from those units searched the Shark River, but attempts to locate Stern’s body were unsuccessful.
On Sunday, December 4, 2016, detectives from the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office joined the investigation in an effort to locate Stern. Detectives from the Prosecutor’s Office and the Belmar and Neptune City Police Departments continued to investigate her whereabouts. The New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also assisted in this investigation.
During the investigation, a suspected former friend of McAtasney’s came forward to authorities with information as to McAtasney’s involvement in the killing. Detectives from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office surreptitiously video-recorded a subsequent conversation between the two men. In that video, which was played before the jury, McAtasney admitted to the murder and provided graphic details of the slaying, as well as noting Taylor’s involvement. When questioned, Preston Taylor admitted his role in helping to dispose of Stern’s body after the killing and later provided testimony during the trial that McAtasney had plotted to rob and murder Stern.
Prosecutor Gramiccioni thanked and credited all law enforcement agencies for their efforts in this prosecution.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant Prosecutors Christopher J. Decker, Director of the Office’s Major Crimes Bureau and Meghan Doyle, Director of the Cold Case & Fatal Accident Unit.
Taylor is represented by of John J. Perrone Esq. of Long Branch.