A former classmate of a 19-year-old New Jersey woman who was strangled during a robbery of thousands of dollars at her home in December has been ordered held while he awaits trial in connection with her death.
Monmouth County Superior Court Judge David Bauman granted the state’s request to detain 19-year-old Preston Taylor on Tuesday after agreeing that the Neptune City man may try to interfere with the case.
Prosecutors say Taylor confessed that he first hid Sarah Stern’s body in the bushes of her home before later helping toss her body off a bridge in Belmar.
Liam McAtasney, also 19 and of Neptune City, has been accused of robbing and killing Stern and recruiting Taylor, his roommate, to dump her body.
News 12 reported that prosecutors said Taylor knew of McAtasney’s plan to attack Stern. The men were allegedly in cell phone communication before and after the killing, which McAtasney had planned for at least six months, NJ.com reported.
They were both longtime friends of Stern’s and Taylor was her junior prom date.
McAtasney’s detention hearing is slated for next week.
Stern’s car was found parked, with the keys in the vehicle, on the Route 35 bridge over the Shark River connecting Neptune and Belmar at 2:45 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.
In recent days, investigators discovered two safes buried in separate locations. One contained thousands of dollars and is reportedly linked to the ongoing investigation.
Last weekend, police boats and helicopters were back on the Shark River and the nearby ocean to search for Stern’s body.
Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said last Friday that his office is hopeful that Stern’s body will be found.
“We’re looking for some kind of miracle,” he said.
Prosecutors haven’t said what led investigators to the men, who were both arrested last Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.