TODAY'S PAPER
68° Good Evening
68° Good Evening
NewsNew York

Not-guilty plea in NYC dancer's slaying

GOSHEN, N.Y. - A sex offender pleaded not guilty Monday in the killing of an aspiring dancer who vanished two years ago after leaving a Manhattan nightclub with him, and his lawyer wants to get him out of prison on bail.

Michael Mele, 25, is charged with murder, manslaughter and evidence tampering in the death of Laura Garza, 25, who had moved to Brooklyn from McAllen, Texas, five months before her disappearance.

Mele could face 25 years to life in prison, if convicted of murder.

Mele, wearing a green jail jumpsuit and a buzz cut, his hands cuffed in front of him and shackled to his waist, pleaded not guilty through his attorney, John Ingrassia, in Orange County Court. Prosecutors believe Garza was killed in Orange County, where Mele lived.

Ingrassia won permission from County Judge Nicholas De Rosa to file a bail application in writing. Mele is already jailed for violating his parole as a sex offender, but that sentence could end as soon as Dec. 24.

District Attorney Frank Phillips said outside court that prosecutors would oppose any bail request.

Phillips said Mele, who was the prime suspect all along and never cooperated with the investigation, was "continuing to exercise his right to remain silent."

Garza had been missing since Dec. 3, 2008, when surveillance cameras showed her leaving the Chelsea nightspot Marquee with Mele. They were also seen a couple of hours later a few miles from Mele's home in Wallkill.

Mele had several sex-offense convictions in New York, and he was wanted in New Jersey for similar crimes. The indictment says Mele hid carpet pieces, a car mat and Garza's body in an effort to keep them from becoming trial evidence. Police said patches of carpet in Mele's apartment had been cut away.

Garza's skeletal remains were found in April in the woods in Mount Cobb, Pa., after what Phillips called "the most intensive search mission I have ever seen."

More news