By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Lucy and Ethel, now both single, spent more time together — sharing their lunch breaks, texting before bed every night.
"I know Melissa wanted to spend extra time sometimes with Debra, to kinda protect her," Christina Kitterman, another Rothstein attorney and friend of Melissa's, told police.
After work, Melissa wasn't eager to stay home alone in an empty house, so she would go to Debra's to cook and laugh and be with her adopted family.
"I always joke, 'Yep, Melissa's our dad,' " Aimee told police. "She does our groceries, she takes care of us, she spoils us at Christmastime, she spoils my son. We go to the Keys together. She makes sure we have everything that we need."
Her generosity was essential to the Villegas family as Debra pursued a new life without Tony. And it didn't go unnoticed.
Wanting to protect themselves, Debra bought a Taser, and Melissa bought Mace, Holmberg remembered Melissa saying. "And I told her she should have got a gun," Holmberg said.
In mid-December 2007, Melissa sent an email to some of her lawyer friends asking how hard it was to do a will. She was thinking of protecting Debra's children in case Tony did something drastic. "My friend Debra is going through a divorce," she wrote. "Her ex-husband is nuts. To be on the safe side, she wants to be sure she designates who gets her children if he hurts her and goes to jail. Seems extreme, but you have NO IDEA what is going on and restraining orders are worthless."
Around this time, Tony Villegas was keeping a makeshift diary in his day planner. He filled it with entries about how much he missed his family. He also knew that Debra had been spending a lot of time with friends at the Round Up Country Western Club in Davie.
"Missing my family," he wrote in a December 12 entry. "Mad at her but loving her so that it hurts... She look like she in love. At Round Up with some guy for 3 hrs. outside making out. Tony you don't like flys on you meat. Forget her."
A few days later, he added: "Remember Tony, she don't love you. She laffing at you."
According to Caleb Villegas, Tony was also aware of how much time Melissa and Debra were spending together. In fact, Caleb told police that his dad blamed Melissa for Debra's filing for divorce, and that case is still pending.
Once, when Tony came to collect Caleb and his brother for a weekend visit, he noticed Melissa's car at the house. And he brought up the issue to his sons.
"He's like, 'The reason that we probably got a divorce [was] so they can spend more time [together],' " Caleb told Plantation police. " 'Cause she had gotten a divorce; Melissa got a divorce from her husband the same time as my mom and dad got a divorce. So he [Tony] thought it was planned for a while, like they were planning to get a divorce at the same time."
"Did he seem at all upset about that?" a detective asked Caleb.
"Yeah," Caleb replied.
"OK. Did he tell you anything more than what you told me?"
"Not really," Caleb said. "He just thought it was her fault."
After that, police can only surmise what happened next based on crime-scene evidence. Melissa pulled her car into the garage of her house and was attacked. She fought back. Pepper-spray stains, the color of rust, marked her garage floor, walls, and ceiling. Her bull terrier got some on his legs.
On the morning of March 6, Melissa didn't show up for work, and she didn't call. So Debra called a Plantation police sergeant and asked him to stop by Melissa's house to see if she was OK. Carrie Fisher came over with a key to let the officers inside. Melissa was gone. So was her black Cadillac.
That afternoon, police found her Cadillac in a parking lot in Plantation. Her brown suit jacket, missing a button, and her dress shoes were in the trunk. A crime-scene deputy noticed bloodstains on the carpet in the trunk.
It took another day to find the body. A South Florida Water Management District employee was raking debris from water pumps in the New River Canal in Plantation when he saw a body floating face-up in the water. Melissa was still wearing the flowered shirt and pants she had modeled for Debra two days earlier.
Her attacker had beaten her repeatedly around her head and neck, but she had fought back, earning bruises and cuts on her arms. The official cause of death was strangulation.
I don't know any of the people involved. I'm just a spectator to this circus, reading about all these matters in retrospect. Finding it very entertaining, by the way.
But I'd say one problem with the portrayal of the victim as "not appreciating mediocrity" and "a person of the highest ethics you could find" is that either you had to be deaf, dumb and blind as a member of Scott Rothstein's firm, or, at the very least not very inquisitive, to even be in the same building as this guy. She wasn't as perceptive or as ethical as portrayed, methinks.
I knew Melissa. I know Scott. The problem with this story, which is basically the narrative in the prosecution's case against Tony Villegas , is Scott.
Rothstein's scheme and the extent of his closeness to the law enforcement community has propelled the conspiracy theorists into the stratosphere. Debra Villegas was clearly involved in Rothstein's Ponzi operation, and may have leaked the details of some of it to Melissa, prompting Scott to order her death.
Scott's eulogy at Melissa's funeral, which I attended, was bizarre. Basically it seemed to be an extended promotion of his firm delivered with self-congratulatory sentiment totally out of keeping with the loss of a promising young lawyer. Given that Stuart Rosenfeldt was Melissa's mentor and not Scott it appeared that Scott had orchestrated a pep rally for RRA rather than a memorial for a slain colleague. Stuart, by contrast, was totally bereft. When I spoke to Stuart immediately after the service about Scott's eulogy, Stuart told me that it was " just Scott being Scott."
In the end Scott has given Tony Villegas a great gift. He has given the defense lawyers their own narrative. Should they successfully spin this to the jury, Scott will claim one more victim.
I don't think the husband did this. Mr. R-Steen and his assistant allegedly had the real motive to kill.
They are the bad people.
The "evidence" here...would be very easy to do a frame-up with.
I have read all about this case and I have to agree I think the husband is the scapegoat. It sounds as though Debra was "such" a user. Who lets their friends do so much for them. Seems she was well taken care of by her boss and her best friend. I find it hard to believe after her saying she had a bad feeling when she met her husband that she still married him and stayed with him after the incident with her young child. I am a survivor of domestic abuse and I would have "found" a way to get out of the situation once it involved one of my children. The poor husband is innocent probably.