Updated January 28, 2022 - 6:54 am
A Las Vegas man initially charged with murder in his girlfriend’s overdose death was sentenced on Thursday to three years and seven months to nine years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.
Jayden Hughes, 21, pleaded guilty in October to involuntary manslaughter and sale of a controlled substance, court records show. Hughes’ arrest report linked him to two overdose deaths in 2020, but he was only charged in connection with the death of his girlfriend, 21-year-old Melissa Mercado.
“He essentially handed a loaded gun to Melissa knowing that she would use it, and he didn’t care,” prosecutor Tina Talim said during his sentencing hearing Thursday.
Mercado died March 28, 2020, at a Las Vegas Valley apartment, and her death was ruled an accident from fentanyl and MDMA intoxication, the Clark County coroner’s office has said. According to Hughes’ arrest report, he waited nearly 3½ hours to call 911 after he woke up that morning to find that Mercado had overdosed.
Hughes’ public defender, Amy Coffee, argued Thursday that Hughes did not give his girlfriend the drugs, and that while Hughes was sleeping, Mercado smoked residue from three pills he had taken.
In court papers filed Tuesday, Coffee wrote that Hughes delayed calling 911 because he was “not emotionally ready to deal with the situation” and instead texted his mother, who urged him to get help. Coffee said he was acting irrational because of the drugs he had taken the night before.
“He did not know that she was going to overdose, but that nonetheless doesn’t make him any less responsible,” Coffee said. “He realizes that but for his drug use, this would not have happened.”
At the beginning of Thursday’s hearing, Talim asked Senior Judge David Barker to watch a YouTube video of Hughes. Although the video was not shown in the courtroom, Talim said Hughes made it about seven months after Mercado died, and it showed him singing about selling and using drugs.
Talim said that after Hughes woke up to Mercado’s overdose, he bought food and was “more worried about destroying the evidence” than he was about calling 911.
Mercado had not used drugs until she began dating Hughes three months before her death, Talim said, and she had overdosed in Hughes’ presence a week before she died.
“He also was well aware that the pill that he gave Melissa had fentanyl in it,” Talim said. “He admitted he knew that. She didn’t — she blindly trusted him.”
Investigators also believe Hughes sold drugs to 18-year-old Richard Soranno on March 24, 2020, less than two weeks before he died at Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on April 5 from complications of cocaine and opiate intoxication.
Months after Mercado’s overdose, in June and July 2020, Hughes sold cocaine to undercover officers, according to his arrest report. Prosecutors filed the second-degree murder charge against Hughes in December 2020.
On Thursday, Hughes told the judge that he grew up around people with addictions and that multiple family members had died of overdoses.
“And you persistently continue to deal in narcotics?” Barker asked Hughes, interrupting his statement.
Barker gave the maximum sentenced Hughes could receive under his plea deal. He told Hughes his decision was influenced by Hughes’ “callous disregard for (Mercado) in making decisions after you realized she was either deceased or in danger.”
Mercado’s mother, Christina Mercado, told the judge that her daughter “loved life” and dreamed of becoming a doctor.
“She was my best friend, and now she’s gone because of him,” Christina Mercado said, her voice thick with emotion.
After the hearing, she said she was grateful that Hughes was going to prison, and that she hopes he comes out a better person.
Her and her husband were initially unaware that he would face any charges in their daughter’s death.
“A lot of times when these things happen, nobody investigates it, nobody does anything,” she said.