A Newburgh man was charged with murder over a year after a Hudson Valley teacher went missing.

On Friday, Matthew Mercado, 37, of Newburgh was arraigned in Orange County Court on charges including murder, in connection with the death of 36-year-old Jessica Lopez, a City of Newburgh woman who was last seen on November 3, 2019, at the Windsor Motel in the Town of New Windsor.

“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,” Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler said. “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. Murder convictions without bodies are permissible under the law and in fact such convictions have occurred before here in Orange County. My heartfelt condolences go out to Ms. Lopez’s family, and my office will do everything in our power to see that the person responsible for her death faces just punishment.”

Mercado had previously been indicted on charges including burglary for allegedly breaking into room 32 of the Windsor Motel on November 3, 2019, at about 1:35 AM, and stealing two bags from the three young women who had been sleeping in the room at the time.

Mercado has been incarcerated since his arrest on November 6, 2019, in connection with those charges.

The District Attorney’s Office asked a grand jury to consider additional evidence concerning the disappearance of Lopez, who had been staying with Mercado in room 33 of the Windsor Motel the night of Saturday, November 2, 2019, into the morning of Sunday, November 3, 2019, police say.

The grand jury indicted Mercado for murder in the second degree for intentionally killing Jessica Lopez in room 33 of the motel as Lopez was attempting to leave the motel at approximately 5:00 a.m. on November 3, 2019. The grand jury also indicted Mercado for a separate count of murder in the second degree for having killed Lopez during the commission of a robbery or kidnapping of her, officials say.

Last year the New Windsor Police Department said finding Lopez was the department's top priority since taking over the investigation from City of Newburgh police and learning about the suspicious nature surrounding Jessica’s disappearance

Lopez was described as being 5'3" and 135 pounds with light brown eyes and brown hair with highlights. The FBI also searched for Lopez. 

Lopez, who goes by the name "Yessica," is a former teacher in Newburgh, according to her social media accounts. Her brother says she recently quit her job working as a health clinic in Newburgh to care for their sick father. Their brother, Franklin Lopez, died in December 2018.

Mercado was also charged with two counts of grand larceny for allegedly stealing Lopez's bank card and stealing approximately $1,500 from her account, most of which was taken out in ATM withdrawals starting at approximately 9:00 a.m. on November 3, 2019. He was also charged with three felony counts of tampering with physical evidence.

One count alleges that he removed Lopez’s body from room 33, placed her in the trunk of her car, drove the car to an unknown location and concealed the body. Another count alleges that he deleted text messages between her cellular telephone and his cellular telephone, messages that were sent at about 5:30 a.m. on November 3, 2019. The third count of alleges that he disposed of Lopez’s cellphone so it could not be used as evidence.

The grand jury also indicted Mercado for burglary for breaking into room 32 and stealing bags from the three young women and added a charge of criminal impersonation for telling the women he would not give their bags back and that he was an undercover police officer, police say.

"We will never forget the family of Jessica Lopez, who have been without her in their lives for over a year now. Her mother, father and brother, all live with the constant pain of her loss. I speak for every member of Law Enforcement that worked on this investigation when I say that we stand with them and we will continue to fight for Jessica every day until justice is brought in this case. Our hearts go out to her family and we will continue to pray for them. It is my hope that the news of this indictment will at least begin the process of closure to Jessica’s family and everyone that knew her," Chief Robert Doss of the Town of New Windsor Police Department said.

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