Jersey Shore man pleads guilty in Sarah Stern case

     Preston Taylor. (Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office image.)

    Preston Taylor. (Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office image.)

    Prosecutors say a man who was involved in moving and dumping the body of a young Jersey Shore woman late last year has agreed to plead guilty and testify against his co-defendant.

    Preston Taylor, 19, plead guilty Monday to numerous counts of an accusation in connection to the murder of 19-year-old Sarah Stern of Neptune City, according to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. 

    In Monmouth County Superior Court, Taylor, also of Neptune City and Stern’s one-time prom date, entered a plea of first degree robbery, second degree conspiracy to commit robbery, second degree disturbing or desecrating human remains, two counts of third degree hindering apprehension, and fourth degree tampering with physical evidence, the prosecutor’s office said.

    He admitted to leaving Stern’s car on the Belmar bridge after her body was thrown from the Shark River span to fake a suicide, the prosecutor’s office said. He also said he knew Liam McAtasney, also 19 and of Neptune City, would rob and kill Stern and that the pair split Stern’s money, buried in a safe in Shark River Park. 

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    Taylor faces up to 20 years in a New Jersey prison and is subject to the No Early Release Act. He will be sentenced on July 21.

    Prosecutors have previously said that Taylor helped McAtasney, dispose of Stern’s body. Taylor has now agreed to testify against McAtasney, who has been charged with murder among other offenses.

    McAtasney is accused of killing Stern during a robbery in which he strangled her with such force that he lifted her off the ground and watched for 30 minutes as she died in her home in last December, according to prosecutors.

    Prosecutors say he gave the description of the killing to a friend, who secretly videotaped their meeting.

    Taylor and McAtasney have been held in jail since their arrest in early February.

    Stern’s car was found parked, with the keys in the vehicle, shortly before 3 a.m. on Dec. 3.

    That sparked a search of the river by the US Coast Guard, New Jersey State Police, and local and county search and rescue units at daybreak that day.

    Volunteers fanned out throughout the area the following week to search for Stern, and authorities offered a $5,000 reward. Police discovered her house unlocked when they checked the same day her vehicle was discovered.

    Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni has previously said that his office is hopeful that Stern’s body will be found.

    “We’re looking for some kind of miracle,” he said.


    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal