NEPTUNE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Inside the Monmouth County Courthouse on Tuesday, prosecutors said the death of Sarah Stern was planned for some time.
The college student from Neptune, New Jersey was reported missing in December and two men were arrested in connection with her death last week.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, Preston Taylor and Stern were once friends. They were classmates at Neptune High School and went as dates to the junior prom. But now, Taylor stands in handcuffs after admitting his involvement in her murder.
“He was also aware that his roommate, the co-defendant in this case, had planned out the execution of this little girl for at least six months,” prosecutor Meghan Doyle told the court.
Prosecutors said Taylor first denied knowing anything, but later admitted to moving Stern’s body twice after his friend and roommate Liam McAtasney allegedly strangled her on December 2 — first moving her body from her home, and then eight hours later from the family’s backyard into her car, where the duo drove her to the Belmar Bridge and dumped her body into the Shark River.
“These boys were both in the Stern home as friends of this young lady, so this is outrageous,” lawyer and longtime friend of the Stern family Charles Stone said.
“There’s a lot of sadness and questioning humanity, basically,” Stern’s cousin Michael Primavera said outside the courthouse. “I can’t believe that somebody that’s supposedly their best friend has planned something like this.”
Judge David Bauman ruled that Taylor will remain in jail for pretrial detention without bail, after his defense pushed to have him home under his father’s watch.
The father took surprising actions after his son was questioned by police.
“We took everything back to our residence, we washed and folded everything, and put his room back together way it was,” Jeremiah Taylor said.
Therein lies the court’s concern and decision to detain.
“Removing everything, washing everything, it’s just a very interesting choice of words,” the judge said.
Taylor led investigators to new evidence, including locations in Sandy Hook and Shark River Park where he buried two safes containing money and Stern’s clothing.
“Motive is something that we’ll get into in trial, but I will point out the fact that at least one of the defendants is charged with felony murder. So you can infer what you will from that, but felony murder, the allegation of felony, refers to a robbery that occurred during the course of a murder,” prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said.
For months, Michael Stern held onto hopes that his daughter would be found alive, leading search parties that Taylor and McAtasney were a part of. Taylor later told police he did so to deflect suspicion.
The search is ongoing for Stern’s remains in hopes of giving her family some closure.
Authorities said when they asked Taylor whether he thinks about what he’s done, he replied “yes, I think about it everyday. I think about what’s going to happen to me if it comes back to me.”
Prosecutors said the suspects were arrested after a witness came forward with information. The state’s primary witness is described as a friend of the two men, who knew about the murder from McAtasney. He said McAtasney instructed him not to tell Taylor that he knew about the crime, for fear that Taylor might do something to harm him.