GOSHEN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Convicted sex offender Michael Mele admitted Monday to killing a 25-year-old aspiring dancer who moved to Brooklyn from Texas to pursue her dreams.
Mele, 26, decided to plead guilty to manslaughter and evidence tampering in the death of Laura Garza before the start of his murder trial at Orange County Court.
Mele confessed to suffocating Garza in his Wallkill apartment after she became upset when she learned he had a girlfriend.
“She got upset — 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 said.
He said he put her body in a laundry basket after killing her, drove to Pennsylvania and dumped her remains in the woods.
Mele will be sentenced on March 6. The judge has agreed to give him 23 years in prison on the manslaughter count and 16 months to four years for evidence tampering.
Several of Garza’s relatives who attended the court session weren’t satisfied with the decision.
A family friend said Garza’s mother, Elizabeth Esquivel, is upset with the deal and worried that Mele will be released before his term is completed.
“He’s getting 23 years in jail, and if you do good time you get less and that’s what she’s worrying about, that he doesn’t come out sooner than when he’s supposed to,” Awilda Cordero told CBS 2’s Lou Young. “She’s hoping that he does life in jail but you know that’s not going to happen.”
“It’s not justice,” Ivan Garza, the victim’s brother, said. He said his daughter may be Laura’s age by the Mele gets out of prison and is worried about people like him walking the streets.
Prosecutors said a surveillance camera captured Mele and Garza leaving the Marquee nightclub in Chelsea early on Dec. 3, 2008.
Police said they drove to Orange County where they were last spotted near Mele’s apartment in Wallkill.
Mele quickly became the prime suspect in her disappearance and prosecutors said he 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 on his back and a possible bite mark on his finger.
During the investigation, police found patches of carpet had been cut away at Mele’s apartment. The evidence tampering charge alleges that Mele hid carpet fragments, a car mat and Garza’s body to prevent them from becoming trial evidence.
Garza’s skeletal remains were found near Scranton, Pennsylvania in April 2010. The cause of death has never been released.
Mele has had several sex-offense convictions in New York, most involving approaching women while masturbating. He was wanted in New Jersey for similar crimes.
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