GOSHEN, N.Y. - A sex offender was charged yesterday with killing an aspiring dancer who vanished two years ago after leaving a New York City nightclub with him.
An indictment charges Michael Mele with murder, manslaughter and evidence tampering in the death of Laura Garza, 25, of Brooklyn. He faces 25 years to life in prison if he's convicted of murder.
He's accused of killing her in Orange County, N.Y., northwest of New York City. Garza's skeletal remains were found in April in the woods in Mount Cobb, Lackawanna County, Pa., after what Orange County District Attorney Frank Phillips called "the most intensive search mission I have ever seen."
Garza had been missing since Dec. 3, 2008, when surveillance cameras at the Manhattan nightspot Marquee caught her leaving with Mele. They were also seen a couple of hours later a few miles from Mele's home in Wallkill.
Mele is already serving time for violating his parole as a sex offender. A call to defense lawyer John Ingrassia was not returned.
Mele had several sex-offense convictions in New York, most involving approaching women while masturbating, and he was wanted in New Jersey for similar crimes. He was denied release in March by a board that cited his "history of sexually deviant behavior."
Mele refused to talk about Garza as he became the focus of the investigation. He was quickly locked up on a parole violation, and a body check revealed scratches and a possible bite mark on him.
Mele hid carpet pieces, a car mat and Garza's body in an effort to keep them from becoming trial evidence, said Phillips.
At Mele's apartment, police found patches of carpet that had been cut away. They searched his vehicle and carried away bags of evidence for testing.
But there was no sign of Garza, who had dreams of becoming a dancer. She had moved to New York City from McAllen, Texas, five months before she disappeared.
As many as 200 firefighters, police officers and volunteers spent days searching in Orange and Sullivan counties in upstate New York.