Michael Mele, Public Masturbator/Convicted Killer, Gets 23 Years In Prison For 2008 Death Of Laura Garza

Orange County sex offender Michael Mele -- who achieved sex offender status for masturbating on women at a mall in 2007 -- learned his fate this afternoon after pleading guilty in January to manslaughter for the 2008 death of a Brooklyn woman he met at a Manhattan nightclub.

Mele was sentenced by an Orange County judge to 23 years in prison for suffocating 25-year-old Laura Garza, an aspiring dancer originally from Texas, and then dumping her body in a rural section of Pennsylvania.

According to various media reports from the time of Garza's disappearance, in December of 2008, she and Mele met at the Marquee nightclub on 10th Avenue in Chelsea. Surveillance cameras at the club captured video of the two leaving together. It was the last time Garza was seen alive.

Mele later admitted to police that he and Garza drove 60 miles north to his condo in Walkill, where he killed her.

During his guilty plea, Mele told the court that when he and Garza got back to his condo, she saw a picture of his girlfriend and tried to leave.

"She wanted to leave. ... She started to get a little louder. I put my hand over her mouth and partially her nose, and shortly after that, she stopped yelling, stopped moving, and I realized something bad had happened," Mele told the court in January.

After killing her, Mele says he "put her in a laundry basket and put a blanket over it." He then drove Garza's body to Pennsylvania and dumped it in a field near Scranton.

Mele immediately was a suspect in Garza's disappearance, but initially refused to cooperate with authorities. Because he was a convicted sex offender on parole at the time of the disappearance, Mele was locked up on a parole violation as investigators continued to search for Garza's body.

Garza's body was found in April of 2010 -- more than a year after she was reported missing -- by ATV riders near Scranton. They told police they found an "intact skeleton," which DNA testing later revealed to be Garza's.

An Associated Press reporter who was in the Orange County courtroom for Mele's sentencing reports that Judge Nicholas De Rosa called the crime "depraved, disgusting, selfish and devastating."

De Rosa doesn't seem thrilled with Mele's 23-year sentence, calling it "imperfect justice." Perfect justice, he told Mele, would be "at the instant you are sentenced you disappear and Laura Garza reappears ... and enjoys the rest of her life."

Mele will be eligible for parole in 20 years. 

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