Garza Murder Suspect Had Bite Mark: Police

Mele has pleaded not guilty to murder, manslaughter and evidence tampering in the death of 25-year-old Laura Garza.

Friday, Apr 8, 2011  |  Updated 6:30 PM EDT
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Michael Mele has pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges in connection with the death of 25-year-old Laura Garza.

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A registered sex offender accused of murdering an aspiring dancer from Texas appeared to have a bite mark on his finger and scratches on his back two days after her disappearance, a New York police detective testified Friday.

        Michael Mele, 25, said the mark on his finger was a knife cut incurred at work, and blamed his cat for the scratches, Newburgh Detective Doug Scott testified at a hearing to determine the admissibility of Mele's statements to police.
       
Orange County Judge Nicholas DeRosa ruled that Mele's comment about the knife is admissible but the cat-scratch statement is not.
       
Mele, of Walkill, N.Y., is accused of killing Laura Garza, 25, after picking her up at the Marquis nightclub in Manhattan. Garza vanished in December 2008, five months after she moved to Brooklyn from McAllen, Texas. Her body was found in Pennsylvania in April 2010.
       
The defense had asked that statements Mele made to police be excluded from evidence.
       
Detective Brian Timmons testified that 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 suburban Rockland County, N.Y.
       
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.
       
DeRosa ruled that the comments Mele made to the two New York City officers were admissable, including the claim that he and Garza had gone their separate ways after meeting at the club.    
During his questioning, defense attorney Craig Brown was careful not to acknowledge that it was Mele on the phone with police.
       
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.
 

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