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
“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.
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.
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.