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A New Jersey man convicted earlier this year of murdering his childhood friend in 2016 and throwing her body off a bridge wants a new trial for several reasons, which include a Facebook comment one of the jurors from his murder trial apparently wrote.
Liam McAtasney, 21, was convicted in February of first-degree murder in the 2016 death of his close friend and former high school classmate, 19-year-old Sarah Stern, who he killed so he could steal money from her.
He is supposed to be sentenced on May 24, along with McAtasney’s accomplice Preston Taylor, but McAtasney is now asking for a new trial.
Prosecutors said McAtasney planned the attack against his friend for weeks, stealing several thousand dollars Stern had inherited from her mother, who died of cancer in 2013. Stern was choked to death before her body was thrown off a bridge. McAtasney was also convicted of robbery, desecration of human remains, conspiracy to desecrate human remains, and hindering apprehension.
But before McAtasney was found guilty, a juror was dismissed as part of the jury after they apparently wrote a comment on Facebook about the trial.
"Sitting on the jury LMAO," the 21-year-old juror commented on a news article about the case on Facebook, according to a NJ.com article from February. "LMAO" is an acronym for "laughing my ass off." That juror claimed her 15-year-old sister wrote the comment, not her. Regardless, she said she was relieved to have been taken off the jury.
“A lot of people kept telling me I looked like (Stern) and everyone involved was my age and so it was a lot to handle,” the ex- juror told NJ.com at the time. “I started having really vivid nightmares about it and I couldn’t take it anymore. It was too much.”
Now, McAtasney is claiming that juror may have compromised his trial and he wants a new one.
Carlos Diaz-Cobo, McAtasney's defense attorney, is trying to argue a mistrial should have been called because the juror defied specific orders and continued to discuss the case on social media after being removed from the jury, the Asbury Park Press reports. Diaz-Cobo also claims that an unnamed woman approached the jurors in February in the courthouse and told them, “Guilty, guilty, guilty," which may have also influenced their decision. There are several other factors the defense attorney is citing as well for reasons to call a new trial: the defense was not allowed to cross-examine the state's lead detective about a specific conversation; there was a jury screening question he claims tainted the panel; and so on.
It’s not clear if the request for a trial will halt the sentencing of the two men involved in Stern’s death scheduled for next week.
Prosecutors say McAtasney asked his roommate Preston Taylor, who happened to be the victim’s prom date, to help him dump her body in a river back in 2016. Stern’s body was never found but police discovered her car with the keys in the ignition, not far from a bridge, hours after she went missing.
Authorities say McAtasney staged it that way to make it appear as though Stern died by suicide. Taylor, who testified against McAtasney, pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery, second-degree conspiracy to commit robbery, and second-degree disturbing or desecrating human remains.
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