By CLOEY CALLAHAN
On November 3, 2019, 36-year-old Jessica Lopez went missing and on Friday, November 6 of this year, District Attorney David M. Hoovler announced murder charges for her death. At this time, the body has not been recovered and Hoovler said “it probably won’t ever be.”
Lopez was a Hudson Valley resident who Hoovler described as “a remarkable young woman” whose “loss is being severely felt by her family, friends, and many of her former students.”
Ex-boyfriend of Lopez, Matthew Mercado, 37, was arraigned before Orange County Court Judge William L. DeProspo on charges including murder in the second degree.
Lopez was last seen at the Windsor Motel in the Town of New Windsor on November 3 of last year. Mercado had previously been indicted on charges including burglary in the second degree for breaking into a room at the motel at around 1:35 a.m. He stole two bags from the three young women who were asleep in the room. He was also charged for criminal impersonation as he told the three women that he would not give their bags back and was an undercover police officer.
Mercado has been incarcerated ever since his arrest on November 6 of last year. The District Attorney’s office superseded the burglary case in the Grand Jury and asked them to consider additional evidence related to Lopez.
Lopez was staying with Mercado at the Windsor Motel the night of Saturday, November 2 into Sunday, November 3.
The Grand Jury indicted Mercado for intentionally killing Lopez in their motel room as she was attempting to leave at around 5 a.m.
“We consider this a domestic violence related homicide in every way, shape and form,” said Hoovler at a press conference on Friday. “It’s sad. It happens in our society and it’s something we should not tolerate.”
Additionally, Mercado was indicted on a separate count of murder in the second degree for having killed Lopez during “the commission of a robbery or kidnapping of her.” He was also charged with two counts of grand larceny in the fourth degree, as he also stole Lopez’s bank card and stole $1,500 from her account. Most of which was taken out in ATM withdrawals starting at 9 a.m. on November 3, 2019.
He’s also been charged with three felony counts of tampering with physical evidence. One of which is for the removal of Lopez’s body from the motel room, into the trunk of her car and then to an unknown location. Another account alleges that he deleted text messages on their phones that were sent at around 5:30 a.m. The final count is for the disposal of her phone so it could not be used for evidence.
“The evidence in this case is extremely strong and extremely compelling in certain aspects,” said Hoovler.
The bail was set at $1 million in cash or $3 million secured bond or $10 million partially secured bond.
The case is scheduled for a virtual conference in County Court on December 2, 2020. Mercado faces up to 25 years to life in state prison on the charges for murder in the second degree and up to 15 additional years on the charge of burglarly in the second degree.
“I expect that as we litigate this that at the end of the day, we will be successful proving 100 percent that Matthew Mercado is the right person and caused Jessica Lopez’s death,” said Hoovler.
Hoovler assigned the case to Chief Assistant Attorney Christopher Borek.
“Chris Borek is one of the handful of prosecutors in the state of New York that has done a case with no body,” said Hoovler. “He previously prosecuted a murder case, almost a decade and a half ago with no body, and now I have hope upon him again to use his talents and prove this case.”
Hoovler said he is confident that he will be charged, despite not having the body as evidence.
“In this case you prove it through the absence,” said Hoovler. “It’s the absence of the footprint. All the things that you go about in your everyday life that you leave a footprint that you were there. All of those things no longer exist. They evaporated, just out of thin air … the only logical conclusion that is brought forward is that the person is now deceased.”
Hoovler said they will continue to search for the body, despite its unlikeliness that it will be found. He described the many police forces working on this case as putting forward a “herculean effort” in trying to recover the body. They have worked closely with police from Northeast Pennsylvania, where there is a large landfill that gets garbage from the area.
“It’s been over a year, we still haven’t found her body,” said Ernesto Lopez, brother of Jessica. “We wanted some type of closure. He got charged, but we still don’t know where she is. We want justice for Jessica.”
“If he’s not going to tell us where the body is, at least have him be sentenced for life,” said Ernesto. “Thank you to everybody who has had my family in their prayers for the past year. This is not what we wanted the results to be, but at least we have some kind of justice for her at this point.”
Mercado is currently being held in the Orange County Jail.