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A New York man has been charged with murder in connection to the disappearance of his girlfriend one year ago, authorities have confirmed.
Matthew Mercado, 37, was charged with second-degree murder on Friday, one year after his partner, 36-year-old Jessica Lopez, vanished, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office announced in a press release. Lopez was last seen alive on Nov. 3, 2019; that morning and the day before, she’d been staying with Mercado at the Windsor Motel, the release states. Lopez was trying to leave the room at around 5 a.m. when Mercado killed her, prosecutors allege; he is accused of then putting her body in the trunk of her car and dumping it at an undisclosed location.
Lopez’s remains have yet to be recovered, but her car was found, days after she disappeared, in a movie theater parking lot, the Hudson Valley Post reports.
In addition to the murder charge, Mercado has been charged with killing Lopez during the commission of kidnapping or robbing her, prosecutors said. He also faces two counts of fourth-degree grand larceny for allegedly using Lopez’s bank card to take $1,500 from her account after she went missing.
Mercado was previously charged with second-degree burglary for breaking into another room at the Windsor Motel in the early morning hours of Nov. 3 and stealing two bags from the occupants, three women, who were sleeping inside, the release states. He allegedly told the women that he was an undercover police officer and would not be returning their bags to them, which earned him a charge of second-degree criminal impersonation. He was arrested on the aforementioned charges on Nov. 6, 2019, and has remained in custody ever since, in lieu of $1 million cash bail.
Lopez, who also went by the name “Yessica,” used to work as a teacher in Newburgh, but most recently left her job at a health clinic to help take care of her sick father, the Hudson Valley Post reports.
“By all accounts Jessica Lopez was a remarkable young woman and her loss is being severely felt by her family, friends, and many of her former students,” District Attorney David M. Hoovler said in Friday’s release. “While recovering her remains will continue to be a high priority for us, we are fully prepared to litigate this case even without her body being recovered.”
Hoovler said during a press conference Friday that his department is not hopeful that Lopez’s body will ever be found, CBS New York reports. Her brother, Ernesto, said that he hopes that Mercado will help authorities find his sister’s body so that they can put her to rest.
“We just want to find a body, have some closure for our family and have justice for Jessica,” he said.
Police said that Lopez and Mercado had been in an on-again, off-again relationship at the time of her disappearance, according to CBS New York.
Mercado is scheduled to next appear in court on Dec. 2, according to prosecutors. He faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison for the murder charges, and an additional maximum sentence of 15 years if convicted of burglary.
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