Laura Garza, 25, center, who was killed shortly after moving to Brooklyn from Texas
He lured her from a Manhattan club to his upstate apartment, then refused to drive her home after she realized he had a girlfriend.
To silence her protests, he covered her mouth and nose with his hand until she stopped breathing, heaved her body in a laundry basket, and left it in the woods to rot.
That’s the story serial molester Michael Mele told in court Monday as he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and agreed to a 23-year sentence for killing dancer Laura Garza.
“It happened very quickly,” Mele, 26, said of the 2008 slaying.
“I put my hand over her mouth and partially over her nose, and shortly after that she stopped yelling. She stopped moving. And I realized that something very bad happened.”
The plea-bargain agreement came just before Mele’s murder trial was about to begin. The deal angered Garza’s loved ones, who had hoped he would get more time behind bars.
“For Michael Mele to get 23 years is not right,” said the victim’s brother, Ivan. “For me, there is no justice.”
Elizabeth Esquivel, mother of the pretty Texas transplant, wept as she said Mele got off easy.
“He should be put away for the rest of his life because he took my heart,” she said.
“I hope he melts in jail.”
Mele, who was on probation for a sex crime, picked up Garza, 25, who had just moved to Brooklyn, at Marquee in Chelsea on Dec. 3, 2008.
He drove her to his apartment in Walkill, but when she got there, she must have realized that she would be just a fling.
“She saw a picture of a girl and female-related items that were my girlfriend’s,” Mele said, wearing a dark suit and speaking softly.
“She was upset by being there, knowing that I had a girlfriend.”
He said she demanded he drive her back to the city, about 70 miles away, but he didn’t feel like it.
“She got a little louder,” he said. “I tried to stop her from doing that,” he said.
He said when he clamped his hand over her face, he knew she couldn’t breathe. When she was dead, he said, he panicked.
“I decided to dispose of her body by myself,” he said.
“I put her in a laundry basket ... and put a blanket over it.”
He hauled the basket to his Infiniti and drove to the woods in Pennsylvania.
The bones were discovered in April 2010. It was a big break; prosecutors charged Mele with murder eight months later.
Garza’s family learned a plea deal was afoot on Sunday night, the eve of opening arguments.
No cause of death was ever disclosed and prosecutors may have been worried they would have trouble proving a murder case to a jury.
Mele will get 23 years for first-degree manslaughter and 1-3/4 years for tampering with evidence, which will be served concurrently.
He will be eligible for release in under 20 years if he behaves himself. The maximum sentence for second-degree murder is 25 years to life.
"My daughter will be the same age as my sister when he gets out. That's not justice," Ivan Garza said.
"He should have got life behind bars."