SALEM — Michelle Murray-Mendez demanded that the man who killed her daughter look her in the eyes.
“If you don’t feel her yet, you will,” she told Jason Fleury, as he stared back, expressionless, in Salem Superior Court on Friday afternoon. “She’ll torture you, and I hope she does. ... Well, you won’t get forgiveness from me. And you sure won’t get it from her, because you took her from her son.”
Fleury, 39, admitted Friday to manslaughter in the Nov. 6, 2014, death of 25-year-old Swampscott mother Jaimee Mendez, as part of a plea deal he struck with Essex County prosecutors to avoid going to trial on a first-degree murder charge. He will serve 17 years in state prison, a sentence that horrified Mendez’s family, who had wanted to see him get life.
Fleury, who is a level 3 sex offender with a long criminal record of allegations of violence against women, was arrested in Hampton, Va., in August 2015. A Lynn native, he had been living in that area at the time of Mendez’s death.
Mendez’s disappearance triggered massive searches by police and her family. Her body finally washed ashore on King’s Beach in Swampscott during a snowstorm on Jan. 28, 2015.
On Friday, her family spoke movingly of the devastation her death had wrought. Jaimee Mendez was a devoted mother with an infectious giggle who worked hard to build a good life, they said.
She took her son everywhere, a 9-year-old boy who is autistic and cannot understand where his mother has gone.
Mendez’s father, Steven Mendez, read a statement on the boy’s behalf.
“I am confused, and have some questions,” Mendez said. “Where did my mother go? Why is she no longer taking me to the park? How long do I have to wait for her to come back? Did I make her leave? Is it my fault? Does she still love me?”
Jaimee Mendez left her home the night of Nov. 6, 2014 to go to Rite Aid. But Assistant District Attorney John Brennan said she made the mistake of accepting a ride from Fleury.
Brennan said video footage captured Mendez at the Rite Aid getting into Fleury’s van, which drove out of the parking lot. A short time later, a friend of Mendez got a call from her saying she was with Fleury. Mendez then made a call to another friend saying that Fleury was acting weird.
“She was scared,” Brennan said Mendez told her friend. “The defendant seemed to be on drugs, or [in] the words that [the friend] recalled, ‘he was all coked out.’ ”
A camera in a nearby office park caught Fleury’s van on video again a short time later. In the footage, Brennan said, someone could be seen discarding something in the roadway. The next day, an office worker found Mendez’s jacket, driver’s license, and cellphone.
On Nov. 8, Mendez’s mother found her daughter’s shoes along with some carpeting and a door panel from Fleury’s van in a dumpster near his home.
When investigators tested the carpeting and door panel, they found Mendez’s blood, Brennan said. They also found her blood on the van’s ceiling, a mattress, a blanket, and a comforter.
Fleury first told investigators he had spent no time with Mendez, then said he left her at the Rite Aid — which was contradicted by the video footage of Mendez climbing into the van.
Investigators learned that Fleury was late to work the morning after Mendez disappeared.
He was driving in with another man who said Fleury had stopped en route on Sculpin Way in Swampscott near the beach.
Fleury got out of the car by himself, the man said, and stared out across the water — at King’s Beach, where Mendez’s body would wash up in less than three months.
Fleury had scratches on his face and hand, Brennan said.
Despite the evidence in the case, Brennan said, investigators were unable to determine exactly how Mendez died. There were too many questions in the case, he said, so the state made a deal.
Mendez’s family was furious at the deal, which they said deprived them of answers about how and why Mendez died, and would put a dangerous man back on the streets.
“Today, your honor, you are making a deal with the devil,” said Alyssa Mendez, Jaimee Mendez’s older sister. “Jason Fleury is a monster with a record of vicious behavior.”Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.