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.
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.
Mele has pleaded not guilty to murder, manslaughter and evidence tampering charges.
Scott said he was booking Mele on an unrelated charge _ and had been told by defense lawyers not to question Mele _ when he saw the injured finger. He said he told another officer, "Looks like he's got a bite mark" and Mele responded that "he had injured himself with a small knife at his work."
Then Scott said he saw the scratches and said, "You're all scratched up," to which Mele said that his cat scratched him.
Orange County Judge Nicholas DeRosa ruled that Mele's comment about the knife is admissible because it was a spontaneous statement and not the result of illegal police questioning. But he said Scott should have realized after the knife comment that his mention of the scratches might elicit a response from Mele and therefore ruled that the cat response was inadmissible.
Earlier, New York City police 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."
"He said they went their separate ways, but they made plans to meet up the following week at Marquis again," Timmons said.
He said Mele was calm and cooperative and said the woman told him she was going to stay with a friend in Manhattan.
New York Police Department Capt. Paul Saraceno testified that he spoke with Mele the next day by phone and agreed to meet him in person at the Palisades Mall in West Nyack.
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, and there was no meeting.
DeRosa ruled that the comments Mele made to the two New York City officers were admissible, including the claim that he and Garza had gone their separate ways after meeting at the club.
The judge also ordered the prosecution to give the defense the name of a man who told authorities he might have seen Garza alive in Newburgh on Dec. 8, 2008, when Mele was already in custody. Prosecutor Kelle Grimmer said the person reported only that he saw "a Hispanic woman with dark hair."
"What are the odds?" she said, sarcastically. But the judge agreed with defense lawyer Craig Brown that he is entitled to contact the man.
Mele appeared in court in an orange jail jumpsuit, his hands cuffed in front of him and shackled to a chain around his waist. He has several sex-offense convictions in New York, most involving lewd conduct in front of women or girls.