New Jersey

One-Time Prom Date and Admitted Accomplice in NJ Student Sarah Stern Murder Sentenced

What to Know

  • Preston Taylor, the one-time prom date of 19-year-old New Jersey student Sarah Stern, received his sentence Friday
  • Taylor admitted his role in helping his friend, Liam McAtasney throw Stern's body off a bridge after McAtasney strangled her in 2016
  • Taylor testified against McAtasney, who was sentenced to life plus 10 years; Taylor was sentenced to 18 years minus 15% for good behavior

Her body has never been found, but on Friday, the next chapter in New Jersey student Sarah Stern’s 2016 murder case concluded when an admitted accomplice learned his fate.

Preston Taylor, Stern's one-time prom date, received 18 years minus 15 percent for good behavior -- meaning he will serve 15 years and 10 months.

Taylor apologized at his sentencing, saying "I should have known better."

Stern's dad, Michael Stern, left the courtroom during the two-minute apology.

Taylor entered a plea to seven counts in 2017, including robbery and tampering with physical evidence and agreed to testify again his codefendant 21-year-old Liam McAtasney.

McAtasney, a former high school classmate of 19-year-old Stern, was convicted of strangling her in the course of committing a robbery at her Neptune City home Dec. 2, 2016 and throwing her body off the Route 35 Bridge in Belmar – with the help of Taylor, Stern’s one-time prom date. McAtansey was sentenced June 21 to life without parole, plus 10 years.

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.

McAtasney’s trial lasted about eight weeks — and by most accounts, was difficult for all parties involved.

When the verdict was handed down in February, trial prosecutor Chris Decker said, "When you're asking a group of 14 people — ultimately 12 people — to convict someone especially so young of a crime like murder, it's not an easy thing to do. You could obviously see that from the jury's reaction on the way out... But I think ultimately, at the end of the day, justice was served."

Prosecutors said observing an apparent lack of remorse by McAtasney while his grisly confession tape played in the courtroom during trial was especially telling.

Monmouth County prosecutors said McAtasney strangled Stern during a robbery attempt from which he thought he was going to get $100,000; he got about $8,000. Then he and a friend dumped her body off the Route 35 bridge in Belmar, leaving her car on the bridge to make it appear that she committed suicide, according to prosecutors and trial documents.

Defense attorney Carlos Diaz-Cobo had argued there was reasonable doubt that the victim was dead, since her body was never been found. He tried unsuccessfully to get McAtasney a new trial, claiming it was prejudiced by a Facebook post made in a juror's name. A judge denied the request.

McAtasney chose not to take the stand on his own behalf at trial.

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