Mele not in court for conference

January 13, 2009 10:31:01 AM PST
An anticipated confrontation between the Garza family and Michael Mele fizzled Tuesday.Defense lawyers waived Michael Mele's right to attend Tuesday's conference in Orange County Court on charges unrelated to the disappearance of Laura Garza.

Garza's mother, Elizabeth Esquivel, and her brothers, Nicolas and Ivan Garza, had expected to get their first look at Mele, 23, since Laura Garza disappeared.

Garza, 25, of Brooklyn, was last seen Dec. 3, leaving a Manhattan club with Mele and heading toward his Wallkill home.

Mele has not been charged in the Garza case, but state police call him a "person of interest" and have been searching his apartment and the lakes, fields and highways around it for more than a month.

Mele, who has been jailed since Dec. 6 for violations of his sex-offender probation, has refused to talk to police about Garza and has turned away the Garza family's attempts to visit him in jail.

"If he's innocent, why is he hiding?" a frustrated Nicolas Garza asked after the court session, which the family did not attend. "He's scared to see us."

Esquivel, in tears, said in Spanish, "I feel destroyed."

At the court session, dealing with charges that Mele possessed stolen credit cards and failed to register an address change, Judge Nicholas De Rosa set April 1 for pretrial hearings.

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