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Sex Offender Charged In Garza Murder

NEW YORK (CBS 2 / 1010 WINS/ WCBS 880) -- More than two years after an aspiring dancer vanished, charges were finally filed Wednesday in her murder. A grand jury indicted convicted sex offender Michael Mele.

It's a five-page indictment that was two years in the making, reports CBS 2's Tony Aiello. And with it the 25-year-old Mele is no longer a mere suspect. He's now officially an accused killer.

The family of victim Laura Garza was relieved on Wednesday.


 WCBS 880's Catherine Cioffi reports

"There's no indictment other than the one God's going to give him. And he deserves it and we were waiting for it. Thank God the day has come," Garza family spokesperson Awilda Cordero said.

Back in December of 2008 Garza hooked up with Mele at a Chelsea nightclub -- unaware of his sex offender past. She traveled to his Orange County apartment and vanished.

Hundreds joined the search. Mele stayed silent as he returned to prison for violating conditions of his sex offender probation.

But then, last April, there was a break in the case. Garza's body was found in the Pennsylvania woods.

The Orange County district attorney won't discuss cause of death but said there was plenty of evidence to win an indictment.

"I hope it brings some relief to the family, but I think we've explained to them in detail, as you all know, that an indictment is not a conviction," Frank Phillips said.

The DA covered all the bases by hitting Mele with two murder and two manslaughter charges. A trial jury will be asked to choose the one they feel best suits the evidence.


 1010 WINS' Al Jones reports


WCBS 880's Paul Murnane reports

However, one forensic scientist said the defense may offer a theory of its own, involving possible drug use.

"It's a very reasonable argument for a juror to believe that she overdosed and died and he simply disposed of her body," Michael Archer said.

Eight months after the body was found it remains in the custody of state police. And Garza's family remains anxious to bring her home to Texas, and lay her to rest.

Mele is due in court next week. He's also charged with evidence tampering -- for removing carpet from his condo, a floor mat from his car, and hiding Garza's body in the woods.

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