Melissa Britt Lewis was a cautious woman. The 39-year-old, newly divorced attorney at Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler carried Mace in her purse, had two dogs and an alarm system at her Plantation home, and always kept her garage door locked to prevent burglaries.
As the eldest child in her family, she grew naturally into the role of a protective, responsible sibling. Before she was brutally murdered in March 2008, she was always busy helping the people she loved -- taking her nieces to rock concerts and Disney World; cooking, grocery-shopping, and planning vacations
for her friend Debra Villegas' family.
All this caretaking came with a fair amount of worry. On her last day of work, March 5, 2008, Melissa mentioned to a coworker that she was feeling stressed. In fact, she told attorney Carl Linder that her heart had been bothering her, and she'd recently had a stress test, Linder told Plantation police in a sworn interview.
"She was saying that she had pain in her heart, so I was talking to her about doing yoga," Linder told the police. "But yeah, she was having stress. I'm sure some of it was work-related, and some it was related to things I don't know about."
The worries Linder didn't know about may have been numerous. Melissa had told other friends that she was concerned about Debra's safety, because Debra's estranged husband, Tony Villegas, was allegedly abusive and had made threats to harm Debra. Lewis had emailed some attorney friends a few months earlier asking for advice about how to write a will. Debra wanted to make sure that if anything happened to her, Melissa would care for her four children.
And Linder said that on March 5, hours before she was killed, Melissa asked for his advice about estate planning.
"She didn't have a family. I mean... she had a need for estate planning but it wasn't a dramatic, immediate need," Linder told police. "But she wanted to get her house in order."
Now, why would a young, single woman, even one as cautious as Melissa Lewis, be so worried about estate planning?