Juror’s ‘LMAO’ Facebook post throws murder trial into chaos

Juror’s ‘LMAO’ Facebook post throws murder trial into chaos

When a person is called up for jury duty in the US, the chosen jurors have to keep the contents of the trial to themselves, while any potential conflict of interest or personal biases can result in their dismissal from the trial. It's rare, however, to see a juror dismissed over a Facebook post, especially when it's one as simple as a mere Facebook comment.

During a recent murder trial in New Jersey, one juror was dismissed from the case by the presiding judge, after she responded to a news article about the case on Facebook, writing: "Sitting on the jury LMAO".

The suspect, Liam McAtasney, is charged with strangling his friend Sarah Stern, then dumping her body, all to steal the money she had inherited from her mother. Now that the juror has been dismissed, McAtasney's lawyer is now asking for a mistrial, suggesting that a fair trial in these conditions is no longer possible, according to NJ.com.

sarah stern Courtesy Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office Credit: Courtesy Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office

The juror's Facebook comment was responding to a news article about the 19-year-old Stern, who had been killed in 2016. The Monmouth County Superior Court Judge, Richard English, was tipped off to the post - and so he called the juror in for questioning last Thursday.

She claimed that it was actually her 15-year-old sister that had made the comment on her account, that she promptly deleted, but she was dismissed regardless. When the trial started up again, five other jurors came forward to say they had heard that she had posted to Facebook about her role in the case, but hadn't known what she'd said. Reaching out to her on Facebook, one juror was told she'd been dismissed, according to the Asbury Park Press.

Prosecutors on the trial, which began in late January, were expecting to call their final witnesses in on Wednesday, before the dismissal threw the case into chaos. The suspect's attorney, Carlos Diaz-Cabo, asked the judge for an adjournment so he could file a motion for a mistrial. To the dismay of prosecutors Meghan Doyle and Christopher Decker, the judge granted the request.

In 2017, Preston Taylor pleaded guilty to various charges in relation to Sarah Stern's death, and is said to be facing between 10 and 20 years in prison. He has also testified against McAtasney, claiming that his former roommate had enlisted his help to steal Stern's inheritance, which they initially believed amounted to $100,000.

“It’s the type of money that somebody would kill for,” McAtasney allegedly told the 21-year-old.

McAtasney is now accused of strangling Stern to death in her home, in Neptune City, before he stole the $10,000 in cash that had been left to Stern by her late mother. He and Taylor are accused of throwing her body off the Route 35 bridge in Belmar. Her body has never been recovered.

Last week, the jury watched a secretly recorded video of McAtasney, where he explained how he had strangled Stern, using a stopwatch app 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 said 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."

The judge has said that he will decide this week whether or not to declare a mistrial.