Defense Seeks Change of Venue in Laura Garza Murder Trial

For two years, Michael Mele refused to talk. Now he's been charged anyway

Friday, Feb 11, 2011  |  Updated 2:46 PM EDT
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<a title=Michael Mele didn't say much as he was led into court to be arraigned on charges in connection with the murder of Brooklyn beauty Laura Garza two years ago." />

Michael Mele didn't say much as he was led into court to be arraigned on charges in connection with the murder of Brooklyn beauty Laura Garza two years ago.

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A sex offender accused of killing an aspiring dancer from Brooklyn is trying to move his trial out of
the upstate New York county where he lives.
       
Lawyers for 25-year-old Michael Mele have asked the Appellate Division for a change of venue.
       
Defense attorney Craig Brown says publicity about the case has been extensive and prejudicial. He says that has tainted the pool of jurors in Orange County, N.Y.
       
Mele, a Wallkill, N.Y., resident, has pleaded not guilty to murder and manslaughter. Texas-born Laura Garza was last seen with him in 2008. Her body was found last year.
       
District Attorney Frank Phillips says the motion is premature, saying there's no way to tell if the jury pool has been tainted before jury selection begins.

Garza had moved to New York from Texas five months before she ran into Mele in December 2008 at a Chelsea nightclub. Video cameras capture Garza leaving the club with Mele, never to be seen again.

Despite intensive searches, the 25-year-old Garza's remains were not found until a group of all-terrain vehicle riders stumbled upon them in April 2010 outside Scranton, Pa.     

Mele, the last person seen with her, denied any part in her disappearance.  He was later imprisoned on a parole violation for failure to register as a sex offender when he moved. 

Orange County District Attorney Francis Phillips said after Mele was charged that it was "highly unlikely any of Mele's criminal past will be presented to the jury" hearing about the Garza case. 

 A search of Melee's apartment found it had been scrubbed clean with bleach, and parts of the carpet had been cut away.

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