Police: Garza suspect had bite mark, scratches

Michael Mele

April 8, 2011 12:31:26 PM PDT
A registered sex offender accused of murdering an aspiring dancer from Texas said he and the woman parted ways after leaving a Manhattan nightclub in 2008, a New York City police detective testified Friday.

The testimony came during a pretrial hearing Friday for Michael Mele, 25, of Walkill, N.Y. He is accused of killing Laura Garza, also 25, after picking her up at the Marquis nightclub.

Garza vanished in December 2008, five months after she moved to Brooklyn from McAllen, Texas. Her body was found in Pennsylvania in April 2010.

Newburgh Detective Doug Scott says Mele seemed to have a bite mark on his finger and scratches on his back two days after her disappearance. The detective says Mele told him the mark on his finger was a knife cut incurred at work. He said Mele blamed his cat for the scratches.

The judge allowed the knife comment but disallowed the cat-scratch statement.

Detective Brian Timmons said he spoke with Mele by phone the day after Garza disappeared.

Timmons said he told Mele that Garza was missing. He said Mele remembered "a female whose first name began with 'L' and that she lived in Texas in a town near Mexico," said Timmons. "He said they went their separate ways, but they made plans to meet up the following week at Marquis again."

Mele, appearing "very calm, cooperative," said the woman told him she was going to stay with a friend in Manhattan, the detective testified.

Police Capt. Paul Saraceno testified that he spoke with Mele the next day, on Dec. 5, and agreed to meet him later that day at the Palisades Mall in Rockland County.

He said Mele told him he would bring along another man, identified only as Andrew, who was with Mele the night Garza disappeared. Mele was supposed to call Saraceno back with an exact time and place to meet at the mall, but never did, Saraceno said.

During his questioning, defense attorney Craig Brown was careful not to acknowledge that it was Mele on the phone with police. The defense has asked that statements Mele made to police be excluded from evidence.

Mele has pleaded not guilty to murder, manslaughter and evidence tampering.

He had several sex-offense convictions in New York, most involving lewd conduct in front of women or girls.

The defendant, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, arrived in court with his hands cuffed in front of him and shackled to a chain around his waist. He was uncuffed for the court session.