A 22-year-old New Jersey man who helped dispose of the body of his junior prom date after his roommate murdered her in a plot to steal $10,000 from her has been sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Preston Taylor, of Neptune City, apologized in court on Friday for his role in the 2016 greed-fueled killing of 19-year-old Sarah Stern before Superior Court Judge Richard W. English handed down the sentence.
‘So many things about this scenario I wish I could take back,’ Taylor said. ‘I should have known better and done something to stop this and I wish more than anything I had. I’m sorry.’
Case closed: Preston Taylor, 22 (left), was sentenced to 18 years in prison Friday for helping to dump the body of childhood friend Sarah Stern (right) off the Route 35 bridge in Belmar, NJ
Sarah’s father, Michael Stern (pictured in lavender shirt and tie) leaves the courtroom so as not to hear Taylor speak during his sentencing hearing on Friday
Stern’s father, Michael, walked out of the courtroom so as not to hear Taylor speak, reported Asbury Park Press.
The judge ordered Taylor to serve 85 per cent of his sentence before he becomes eligible for parole, meaning that he will have to spend more than 15 years behind bars before being considered for a release.
Taylor’s former roommate, Liam McAtasney, 21, was convicted in February of strangling his childhood friend, Stern, and was sentenced last week to life in prison without parole.
Taylor testified against McAtasney during his trial and in April pleaded guilty to six charges involving robbery and the treatment of human remains.
In exchange for his full cooperation and testimony, prosecutors agreed not to charge him with felony murder.
Taylor, who took Stern to the junior prom, told the court that he had removed the 19-year-old’s body from her home in Neptune City just hours after McAtasney strangled her on December 2, 2016.
Taylor is pictured apologizing in court Friday for failing do stop Stern’s murder
Jeremiah Taylor, father of Preston, sits in the gallery as his son is sentenced
He admitted to helping McAtasney throw her body from the Route 35 bridge in Belmar before leaving her car and keys behind to make the death look like a suicide.
The men’s goal was to steal what they believed was $100,000 in a house owned by Stern’s family.
McAtasney was also found guilty of stealing nearly $10,000 Stern’s mother had left to her and burying it. A little more than a third of that sum had been promised to Taylor as his cut.
One last glance: Taylor looks back and smiles at his family as he is led out of the courtroom following his sentencing Friday
Before Taylor was sentenced on Friday, his attorney, John Perrone, asked the judge for a more lenient sentence of 10 years in prison, pointing out that his client’s cooperation was instrumental to McAtasney’s conviction.
Prosecutor Christopher Decker asked for a 15- to 20-year prison term, arguing that it was in Taylor’s power to stop Stern’s murder, but he chose to do nothing.
‘But for Preston Taylor, Sarah Stern would still be here,’ Decker said.
When given a chance to deliver an impact statement, Michael Stern lashed out at the defendant for repeatedly desecrating his child’s body and labeled his conduct as ‘pure evil,’ according to NJ.com.
‘He took Sarah’s lifeless body and moved it not once, not twice, but three times and dumped it in the Shark River,’ Stern said of Taylor. ‘No words can be said to anybody who does anything like this to someone’s child.’
Prosecutors previously credited much of the justice served to amateur filmmaker Anthony Curry, who came forward to police in January 2017 – a month after the murder – to tell them of a strange interaction he’d had with McAtasney.
On Thanksgiving 2016, a week before Stern disappeared, Curry said McAtasney pitched to him an idea for a grisly film.
The plot-line, consisting of murdering a young girl and throwing her off the bridge with his friend, came from an idea that McAtasney had specifically had, Curry said.
‘I’m a filmmaker. He used to tell me ideas all the time about films I should make and all that stuff.
Liam McAtasney wipes tears from his eyes during his is sentencing in Monmouth County Superior Court last week
‘And he told me about this idea he had to kill this girl… that he was going to strangle her and throw her over the bridge with his friend,’ he told interviews for an an ABC News’ 20/20 recorded in March.
It wasn’t until Stern’s disappearance that Curry thought he was discussing a real-murder plot.
‘I was like, “yeah, he’s a little nuts.” But I don’t know, I just thought it was a movie,’ Curry said.
Shortly after Stern was reported missing, Curry said McAtasney started contacting him almost daily, leaving him messages saying ‘I’ve got to tell you something’.
And after he sent a message to Curry asking ‘if the cops had questioned’ him about McAtasney’s possible involvement in Stern’s disappearance, Curry went straight to the police.
McAtasney discussed the murder with another classmate, Anthony Curry, in a secretly recorded conversation that was heard and regarded as crucial evidence during the trial
McAtasney, (left), worked with Taylor, 22, (right), also a former classmate, to try to steal what they believed was $100,000 in a house owned by Stern’s family
There, New Jersey investigators asked the then 19-year-old to participate in a sting operation to secretly record conversations with McAtasney and elicit a confession.
Curry agreed, fearing his own family could be in danger with McAtasney still at large.
In January 2017, police set up a series of visual and audio bugs in Curry’s car, and he drove to meet with McAtasney.
In the video, he described how it took her a half-hour to die and he had timed it on his phone.
The video was filmed just days before McAtasney and his alleged accomplice, Preston Taylor, were charged in 2017 with killing the 19-year-old girl.
‘I pretty much hung her,’ McAtasney said to his friend Anthony Curry in the footage.
Anthony Curry (above) agreed to help police secretly record McAtasney talking about how he killed Sarah Stern in December 2016
Days after the footage was captured, police interviewed Taylor where he immediately confessed to his involvement (above)
‘I picked her up and had her dangling off the ground. It took me a half hour to kill her. I set a timer.’
He said the biggest problem was Stern’s dog but it just ‘laid there and watched as I killed her.’
McAtasney went onto tell his friend that he needed Taylor’s help dumping Stern’s body off the Route 35 bridge because he didn’t realize how heavy she would be.
In the video, McAtasney also talks about he thought he was going to get $100,000 by robbing Stern of her inheritance after killing her, but that he only got $8,000.
‘The worst part of it is I thought I was going to come out $50,000 to a $100,000 in my pocket. She had one safe that she took money out, and she only had $10,000,’ he said.
Taylor, who took Stern to the junior prom, (pictured in 2014), told the court during the trial that he had removed the 19-year-old’s body from her home in Neptune City just hours after McAtasney strangled her on December 2, 2016
Taylor pleaded guilty to six charges involving robbery and the treatment of human remains. He is pictured testifying for the prosecution on January 23
‘And this money, I don’t know if it was burnt or something, it’s f*****g old money. Terrible quality. I don’t even know if I can put any of it in the f*****g bank.’
McAtasney can also be heard telling Curry that Taylor would kill him if he snitched.
He claimed that Curry was the only person to know about Stern’s death besides Taylor.
‘I don’t feel any different, I really don’t think about it,’ McAtasney said. ‘You always think you’re going to try all these new things and change, but it just doesn’t do anything. It’s weird.
McAtasney told Curry that he needed Taylor’s help dumping Stern’s body off the Route 35 bridge because he didn’t realize how heavy she would be.
Curry replied: ‘It’s a f****** movie, man.’
McAtasney replied: ‘It’s your life. You might as well make it one. What are you going to live some boring a** life?’
Curry came forward to authorities in January 2017 after his father contacted a retired officer from the Bradley Beach department.
He testified in court in February that McAtasney first told him of his plans to strangle Stern on Thanksgiving in 2016.
At the time, he hadn’t thought much of the conversation but grew worried when he learned that the woman had been reported missing on December 3, 2016.
Curry had attended high school with both Stern and McAtasney.
Both Stern and McAtasney had been in the victim’s home in Avon-by-the-Sea when she found a shoebox full of cash that had belonged to her deceased mother.
‘He told me he was going to meet up with Sarah, she had found this money,’ Curry said in court.
‘They were going to count it together. He was going to choke her, choke her out. Bring her to the bridge, throw her off and Preston was going to drive the escape vehicle. And they were going to bury the money, and leave the keys in the ignition and make it look like she killed herself.’
The pair left Sarah’s car on the bridge to make it look like she killed herself. Police later found her abandoned car on the Belmar bridge, in New Jersey (pictured above)
After Stern’s disappearance, Curry said that he and McAtasney corresponded on Snapchat because of its ability to get rid of messages. Curry videotaped the contents from those messages.
The messages led Monmouth County Prosecutors to obtain a warrant for consensual recording.
McAtasney’s attorney, Carlos Diaz-Cobo, had questioned with the guilty verdict for reasons including the fact a body was never found and the evidence against him was largely circumstantial.
He had also argued the confession just a story crafted by an immature young man known for lies and a love for horror movies, NJ.com reported.