WILKES-BARRE — While police were investigating the stabbing death of Fred Boote the morning of Sept. 14, his alleged killer was a few blocks away at a hospital getting treatment for his hands that were badly injured in the attack, police say.
A surveillance video showing Reynaldo Mercado Jr. entering Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre was part of the evidence that authorities pieced together to file homicide and other charges against him Friday.
Mercado, 31, was arraigned by District Judge Donald Whittaker in Nanticoke and committed to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility without bail. Mercado, whose left hand was still bandaged, said nothing as he left Whittaker’s office.
The week-long investigation involved a stray dog, unnamed witnesses, a secondary probe into a missing 14-year-old girl, two fires and took police near and far from Boote’s residence on Donald Court, a quiet cul-de-sac in South Wilkes-Barre.
Police arrested Mercado in West New York, N.J., on Sept. 15, the day after Boote’s death. He fled there with a teenager previously identified as Alex Reyes in an attempt to leave the country for the Dominican Republic, police say.
When returned to Wilkes-Barre on Friday, authorities said he confessed to the killing and attempting to destroy the crime scene and body by dousing it with gasoline and setting them on fire. In addition to charges of homicide, robbery, arson, abuse of corpse and tampering with evidence, police filed interference with the custody of children against Mercado. Whittaker set $100,000 cash bail for Mercado on the interference charge and scheduled a preliminary on both cases for Oct. 2.
The affidavit of probable cause prepared by police to support the homicide and related charges against Mercado said he did not act alone. The 14-year-old girl reportedly was seen on surveillance videos from the neighborhood with Mercado entering and exiting Boote’s house between 1 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. Sept. 14.
In the affidavit, police detailed Mercado’s confession: The original intent was to rob Boote. The girl gained entry into Boote’s house and left the front door open for Mercado. After the girl went to the second floor with Boote, Mercado surreptitiously entered the house and proceeded to the master bedroom where he used a lamp to knock out Boote. The girl went downstairs to the kitchen, retrieved a knife and returned to bedroom. Mercado grabbed the knife and stabbed Boote multiple times, killing him. Mercado then went downstairs, where he located a container of gasoline in the garage and returned with it to the bedroom. Mercado poured gasoline on Boote’s lifeless body and lit the gasoline. At Mercado’s direction, the girl took Boote’s cellphone and approximately $25 in cash and they left the house.
It’s unclear if the teen is facing charges.
Police: Tried to burn shoes
The fire partially burned a blanket that was draped over Boote’s body, police said. Another intentionally set fire extinguished later that day in the basement of a Maffett Street building a few blocks from Boote’s house provided additional evidence.
Mercado confessed to setting the second fire in an attempt to burn his clothes and shoes in the Maffett Street building adjacent to where he lived.
Firefighters responded to the Maffett Street fire around 1 p.m. on Sept. 14 and found tar paper covering the burning clothes and shoes. Firefighters contacted police believing the fire was related to the death investigation. From photographs of the pattern on the soles of the shoes, police determined they were similar to evidence found in Boote’s house.
Boote’s dog initially led police to the crime scene, they said. The dog was found shortly after 3 a.m. Sept. 14 at a nearby Turkey Hill on Carey Avenue and was wearing a collar with a address and phone number. An officer took the dog to the house and noticed the front door was open. There was no response after the officer rang the door bell several times. Backup officers were called and they found blood droplets throughout the house. One of the responding officers who found Boote’s body knew him and positively identified him, police said.
As the investigation progressed, police said they interviewed Carmen Cardy, the mother of the teenager who accompanied Mercado to Boote’s house.
According to the affidavit: Cardy had a romantic relationship with Boote and lived in his house with her children. At some point, Boote asked them to leave. The woman and her children later lived with Mercado at his Maffett Street apartment. The day of the stabbing, the woman saw Mercado treating his badly bleeding hand wounds at the kitchen sink. He told her he was assaulted the previous night. Mercado accompanied the woman as she walked her children to Kistler Elementary School on Old River Road and then went with her to nearby Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre.
An autopsy performed Sept. 15 on Boote concluded that he died from multiple stab wounds and the manner of death was homicide. The next day police interviewed Mercado’s uncle at the West New York Police Department headquarters in New Jersey. Police there had detained Mercado based on the charges Wilkes-Barre police filed against him in connection with the missing girl. The teenage girl was found with him in New Jersey.
The unnamed uncle said Mercado arrived at his home Sept. 15 and confessed to killing someone in Pennsylvania, the affidavit states. The uncle said Mercado was trying to get to the Dominican Republic. The uncle said Mercado knew the victim was dead before he left the victim’s house, according to court papers. The uncle said Mercado also showed him news reports and social media posts of himself and the missing girl. Pennsylvania State Police had posted the photos as part of their alert for the pair.
On Thursday, Mercado waived his extradition to Pennsylvania and agreed to be transported back to Wilkes-Barre. He was brought back Friday, advised of his Miranda rights and consented to questioning by the Wilkes-Barre police and Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office.