A judge on Friday sentenced a Jersey City man to 26 years in prison for attempting to stab his colleague to death in his driveway in Rutherford.
The “vicious and depraved attack” justified the maximum sentence for attempted murder against Gabriel Mercado, who no doubt plotted to kill Jessica Hild in October 2018Superior Court Judge Christopher Kazlau said at a hearing in Hackensack Friday.
Prosecutors had described Mercado, 25, as a jealous stalker who was obsessed with Hild, fueled by resentment after she rejected his advances, prosecutors said. One morning, as the then 24-year-old woman was preparing for work, he allegedly ambushed her and started stabbing indiscriminately with a knife.
“It was about the massacre of a young woman who only politely refused her a date,” said Meredith Kunz, deputy prosecutor, on Friday.
A Bergen County jury convicted Mercado in August on all charges he has faced, including attempted murder, aggravated assault and criminal harassment. His trial, held before a socially distanced jury, was the first to open in Bergen County since the fall of 2020, when the state banned jury trials for eight months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jurors were to sit spaced in seats reserved for spectators. All participants in the courtroom – the prosecutors, the defense team, and the judge – were separated by plexiglass and had to wear masks, except for Mercado, who wore a clear face mask for the jury to do. can see his expressions.
Prosecutors said Mercado and Hild worked together at West Elm, an interior design store in Hoboken, where Mercado was a warehouse. The relationship was cordial at first, until Mercado started talking to colleagues about Hild’s love life and allegedly asked her out via an Instagram message, which Hild declined.
Her infatuation increased, with questions to colleagues about Hild’s plight, coupled with “long and disturbing” messages he sent on Instagram that spoke of jealousy after she rejected him, and the depression he suffered from and his therapy sessions, prosecutors said.
The chase culminated in Hild’s stabbing on October 15, 2018. Early that morning, Mercado took an Uber to her neighborhood and hid outside her house with a knife until she appeared, according to a testimony.
At trial, the state presented eyewitnesses to the attack, unbalanced messages sent by Mercado, and body camera footage showing paramedics tending to Hild as she writhed in pain in the grass outside her home in Rutherford, in a bloodstained shirt.
Hild, who testified against Mercado, needed emergency surgery to repair damaged arteries and severed tendons in her hand, but survived the attack. She also reportedly suffered a fractured vertebra and cuts to her tongue, face and hand, and ended up with a metal plate in her skull.
Rutherford’s wife confronted him again in court on Friday, begging the judge to hand down the maximum sentence.
“Every day I worry about my eternal injuries which are manageable in a 27 year old body. But what about a 40, 50, 60 year old body? Says Hild. My neck pain will only get worse with age.
Mercado’s attorneys advanced an insanity defense during the trial, claiming he suffered from mental illness in the months leading up to the attack. The defense presented a psychiatrist who testified that Mercado suffered from depressive disorders, paranoid delusions and suicidal thoughts, enough to label him insane.
But prosecutors said Mercado acted logically on the day of the attack and a few weeks before. He used Amazon to purchase two hunting knives, one with a 7 inch blade. The morning Hild stabbed, he drove an Uber to his home and then fled before the police arrived.
Laura Sutnick, a lawyer for Mercado, said they would appeal the guilty verdicts.
Tom Nobile covers Bergen County Superior Court for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news, from criminal trials to local lawsuits and in-depth analysis, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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