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New York sex offender Michael Mele gets 23 years in prison for Laura Garza's death

Laura Garza (credit: AP Photo/NYPD), Michael Mele (credit: CBS New York)

(CBS/AP) GOSHEN, N.Y. - Michael Mele, a New York sex offender, was sentenced on Tuesday to 23 years in prison for suffocating an aspiring dancer from Texas and dumping her body 85 miles away in Pennsylvania.

Pictures: Laura Garza

Mele pleaded guilty in January to manslaughter in the death of 25-year-old Laura Garza, who disappeared in 2008 after Mele picked her up in a Manhattan nightclub.

A surveillance camera showed Garza and Mele, who had several sex-offense convictions and was on parole, leaving the Marquee nightclub in Manhattan together on Dec. 3, 2008. Investigators said the pair drove north 60 miles to Mele's apartment.

Mele became the prime suspect in the case, but Garza's body was not found until April 2010, when a group of ATV riders near Scranton, Pa., came across what police described as "an intact skeleton," which DNA tests identified as the missing woman.

In court during his guilty plea, Mele said that after Garza saw a picture of his girlfriend, "She wanted to leave. ... She started to get a little louder. I put my hand over her mouth and partially her nose, and shortly after that, she stopped yelling, stopped moving, and I realized something bad had happened."

He said he then panicked, "put her in a laundry basket and put a blanket over it." He carried the body to his SUV and drove to Pennsylvania, he said.

Judge Nicholas De Rosa called the crime "depraved, disgusting, selfish and devastating."

De Rosa said the resolution was "imperfect justice." He said perfect justice would be "at the instant you are sentenced you disappear and Laura Garza reappears ... and enjoys the rest of her life."

Defense lawyer Craig Brown said after the plea that with good behavior, Mele could be out in less than 20 years.

Garza had moved to Brooklyn from McAllen, Texas, five months before she disappeared. She had hopes of becoming a professional dancer.

Mele has had several sex-offense convictions in New York, most involving approaching women while masturbating, reports CBS New York. He was wanted in New Jersey for similar crimes.

Complete coverage of the Laura Garza murder trial on Crimesider

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