Melanie Conroy
Melanie Conroy. Photo credit: Dignity Memorial

A convicted sex offender accused of killing a 47-year-old Hemet woman and leaving her body in a car abandoned in Vista pleaded not guilty Friday to murder and auto theft.

Michael Lee Lorence, 46, was arrested last month following a Hemet Police Department investigation into the death of Melanie Conroy.

Lorence was arraigned before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Mark Singerton, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for Jan. 31 at the Banning Justice Center.

The defendant is being held without bail at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta.

According to Hemet police Lt. Michael Mouat, Conroy was reported missing on the afternoon of July 27 from her residence in the 900 block of Mellisa Drive, just north of Fruitvale Avenue.

Mouat said that within a day of her family filing the missing person report, they uncovered “evidence suggesting Melanie’s disappearance was not voluntary.”

Homicide detectives took over the investigation, and on the afternoon of July 29, they located the victim’s car in the parking lot of a Vista Park & Ride, according to the lieutenant.

He said that Conroy’s body had been stuffed in the trunk.

Detectives soon gathered sufficient evidence — the nature of which wasn’t disclosed — that identified Lorence as the alleged perpetrator and learned that the convicted felon had already been locked up at a detention center in San Diego County stemming from an unrelated fugitive warrant.

On Aug. 12, the defendant was formally arrested for the alleged murder, and Hemet police initiated the process of transferring Lorence from the San Diego County facility to Riverside County, which was completed five days later.

A possible motive for the alleged attack was not provided, and authorities did not specify the relationship, if any, between the victim and Lorence.

According to court records, he has prior convictions for sex offenses in another jurisdiction, but they weren’t listed. He also convictions in Riverside County for vehicle theft, failing to register as a sex offender and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

Conroy leaves behind three children and donations for the family can be made at

City News Service contributed to this article.