A New Jersey judge tossed a juror off a high-profile murder case after she posted "sitting on the jury LMAO" on Facebook, throwing the trial into uncertainty after weeks of proceedings.
The trial for Liam McAtasney, who is accused of strangling his childhood friend Sarah Stern and dumping her body into a river to steal her inheritance money, began in January. Stern graduated from Neptune High School in New Jersey and wanted to be an artist. Prosecutors say that McAtasney and his roommate Preston Taylor went to the 19-year-old's home on Dec. 2, 2016, strangled her, and dumped her body off an interstate bridge in a plot to steal about $10,000 from her late mother that she had kept in a shoebox.
Despite a lengthy, massive search, Stern's body was never found.
In April, a Monmouth County grand jury indicted the 21-year-old on seven charges, including first-degree murder and desecrating human remains. If convicted, he could face life in prison without the possibility of parole. Taylor took a deal, pleading guilty to a host of charges and agreeing to testify against his friend at trial.
Now, the suspect's attorney is demanding a mistrial. Last Thursday afternoon, Superior Court Judge Richard English removed a juror who commented "sitting on the jury LMAO" on a Facebook post about the murder, according to the Monmouth County prosecutor's office.
Judge English learned about the comment after a woman called his chambers and said she had seen it, Chris Swendeman, a spokesperson for the prosecutor, said Wednesday afternoon, hours after the information had been made public.
English then questioned the remaining 15 members of the jury and found that five of the jurors knew the woman had posted something about the case on Facebook, but didn't know what she had said.
"Nobody knows if it was to her Facebook page or not. Somebody had also said that she argued that her sister had used her name, but we don't know that as fact," Swendeman said.
Carlos Diaz-Cobo, who is representing McAtasney, asked the judge to halt proceedings for the rest of the day on Wednesday so he could do some research. The defense attorney is now seeking a mistrial.
English granted his request and will rule on a mistrial on Thursday, Swendeman confirmed.
"It's incredibly frustrating but it's going to run its course right now and we are hoping that the trial will go on," he said.
The Monmouth County prosecutors were visibly angered by the disruption and the judge's decision, according to NJ.com. They had planned to call their final witnesses Wednesday after several weeks of proceedings.
Last week, the jury had watched a disturbing, secretly recorded video of McAtasney, in which he explained how he had strangled the 19-year-old and watched her die, using a stopwatch app on his phone to time how long it took her to stop breathing.
"Her dog laid there and watched while I killed her, and didn’t do anything,” he told his friend in the video. “I choked her out, dragged her to the back, put her in the bathroom, and then I had to go to work."