By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
Police have never found Melissa's Prada purse or her iPhone. They did not note in their reports that her body was found less than a mile from the Round Up club where Tony had watched Debra kiss another man.
But after interviewing Debra Villegas and her children and hearing about Tony's alleged pattern of violence, the detectives began examining his cell phone records and Melissa's.
They found that Melissa's phone kept moving after she was attacked. It communicated with cell phone towers in the area, following a path that "closely mirrored" the route from Plantation to the Miami Gardens apartment where Tony was living.
The day after Melissa disappeared, Tony went to work in Fort Lauderdale as usual around 5 a.m. Melissa's phone followed his path to work and the route of the train he was operating that day. Her cell phone also traveled to the places where her body and her car were found.
According to Debra, a deposition in her divorce case had been tentatively scheduled for the day Melissa disappeared. But she said Tony's attorney never confirmed the time or scheduled the deposition, so it never happened. She told police she wasn't sure if Tony even knew about it.
"He didn't even know that my depo was set," Debra said in a sworn interview. "He didn't know about it... because his attorney said that, you know, it wasn't a real date, and we just cleared it over the phone."
But Tony may not have been as ignorant as Debra thought. Tony's roommate, Wilset Pascual, said that on the evening of March 5, 2008, Tony came home from work around 5:30 and said he was leaving for an appointment with his attorney.
"He came home, took a shower, and left," Pascual told Plantation police in a sworn interview.
"He didn't mention the attorney's name he was going to see?" a detective asked Pascual.
"No. It was a deposition, if I am not mistaken, a deposition," Pascual said.
That evening, Pascual left to have dinner with a girlfriend. He arrived home around 11:30 p.m. to find Tony washing his arms in the bathroom. Tony seemed to be itchy, scratching himself.
"What's wrong? You OK?" Pascual asked him.
Tony explained that he had been sorting through some moving boxes and that a can of pepper spray had exploded on him. He asked Pascual if he knew how to get the stuff off his hands.
"I don't know — check the internet," Pascual remembered saying. Then Pascual went to his laptop and searched for "pepper spray." Computer records confirmed Pascual's account.
On March 10, Plantation police detectives confronted Tony at work with a search warrant. He told them he had been expecting them. As the interview began, he broke down crying.
On the night Melissa was murdered, he said, he was either home in Miami Gardens, at his parents' house, or at one of his two sisters' houses. He "denied any involvement in the murder of Melissa Lewis," according to the police report.
Tony admitted that "he was bothered by guys being at 'his' house with Debra, but he was not bothered by the relationship that Debra had with Melissa," the report continued.
"Debra was a smart woman and did not need Melissa," he said.
Meanwhile, Tony said that he didn't own pepper spray and that "there is no reason it would be on him and that he has never used pepper spray."
Nine days later, forensic testing revealed that Tony's DNA had been found on Melissa's suit jacket — the same one that ended up in the trunk of her car the day she died.
He was arrested on March 15, 2008, and charged with first-degree murder.
That's what Debra Villegas told Plantation police in a sworn interview days after Melissa disappeared. But as time went on, it became clear that Debra had some serious blind spots when it came to her best friend's death.
The day Tony was arrested, Debra told the Miami Herald she was shocked that her ex-husband could have committed the crime. "It never crossed my mind," she said. "I certainly have an overwhelming amount of guilt."
Plantation police had questioned Debra repeatedly about whether Tony had a motive to kill Melissa. And Debra always struggled to believe that her husband — despite the violence and threats he made toward her — would lash out at her friend.
"I am 99.9 percent sure he's not your guy," she told police.
"Why is that?" a detective asked her.
"I wish I could tell you, because I thought about it a hundred times since we talked yesterday," Debra replied. "Just, when you lived with somebody for 17 years, you just know them, you know what I mean? And ah, he couldn't do it... He could not, especially somebody like her..."
It's tough to know whether Debra was in denial, a common affliction for women in abusive relationships, or if she truly believed Tony was innocent.
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.