Emotions ran high Thursday when prosecutors played jurors an alleged confession tape in which they say their suspect describes murdering a childhood friend for her inheritance money.
Sarah Stern was a promising young artist when she went missing at the age of 19 from her New Jersey home in December 2016.
Months later, her childhood friend Liam McAtasney was charged for allegedly strangling her and enlisting Stern’s prom date to help throw her body off a nearby bridge crossing Shark River in Belmar, New Jersey. Her body was never found.
In court Thursday, prosecutors played what they say is a confession tape where McAtasney allegedly admits to the killing.
“It took me half an hour to kill her,” McAtasney can be heard saying in the tape.
Prosecutors say McAtasney planned Stern’s death for sixth months and his aim was to get to Stern’s lockbox, which he believed was stuffed with cash.
“The worst part of it is I thought I was walking out [with] $50,000 to $100,000 in my pocket,” McAtasney allegedly said in the tape. “She had one safe that she took money out [of], and she only had $10,000.”
Police secretly recorded the video in a sting operation using McAtasney’s friend Anthony Curry.
Police say Curry told them that McAtasney approached him in January 2017 about a week before the murder. McAtasney allegedly told Curry about his plan to kill and rob Stern of the money she inherited after her mother died.
Police had Curry arrange a face-to-face meeting with McAtasney and then set up a video recording device in Curry’s car.
McAtasney can be seen in the video allegedly describing in gruesome detail how he choked Stern for half an hour while she struggled to stay alive, before stealing her lockbox and throwing her body off the bridge with the help of accomplice Preston Taylor.
McAtasney's attorneys say their client fabricated the story for a horror film that Curry, who’s a young filmmaker, was working on.
McAtasney was asked about Stern's whereabouts in videos recorded on police body cameras just hours after Stern’s disappearance.
“I just know she’s been trying to get away, been telling me she’s moving to Canada,” McAtasney said to police at the time.
Prosecutors say he intentionally misled investigators, hoping to throw them off.
Preston Taylor, Stern’s prom date and McAtasney’s former roommate, has already pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery, second-degree conspiracy to commit robbery, and second-degree disturbing or desecrating human remains. Taylor has testified against McAtasney.
He said McAtasney told him Stern had the "type of money somebody would kill for" and that he planned to get her drunk and take the money left by her mother.
McAtasney has denied all charges brought against him and is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
The defense is expected to present their case next week.