The Melissa Britt Lewis murder investigation is about as confusing a case as I've seen. Start with a dearth of information from Plantation police and throw in contradictory accounts in the newspapers and you're left with a lot more questions than answers.
The evidence (a cell phone and a Google search?) seems scant and muddled. Police have sealed the arrest affidavit, which in my eyes runs counter to the Sunshine Law. In Florida, you're supposed to tell the people why you've locked one of their fellow citizens in a locked cell. Police spokesman Phil Toman and prosecutor Howard Scheinberg argue that probable cause for the arrest can't be made public because the investigation is "fluid" and "very active" at the moment. Well, maybe they should have waited until they had a case before they arrested Tony Villegas for the murder.
And what about Tony? The suspect is, of course, the estranged husband of Debra Villegas, who was the murder victim's colleague and very close friend at the Fort Lauderdale law firm of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. Why would he kill his wife's best friend? Read this from the Sun-Sentinel's Sunday story on the arrest, in which Debra Villegas said Tony was "abusive" toward her but had no problem with Lewis:
"[Debra] said Lewis and her husband "never had a cross word" and that he thought Lewis was a 'very nice person.' But, she said that he was outraged at the divorce."
He's so outraged at the divorce that he not only killed somebody on the fringe of the relationship but also somebody that he liked?
Then there was this from Monday's story in the same newspaper:
"Debra Villegas on Sunday said Tony Villegas and Lewis were always cordial and that she did not sense that he harbored ill will toward the woman the couple's children considered an aunt."
The Monday article also quotes Tony Villegas' lawyer, Michael D. Walsh, as saying the defendant is "bewildered" since he didn't know Lewis and had no problem with her.
Okay. You never know what to believe from a man accused of murder (or from his lawyers, for that matter). But the Miami Herald's report on Tuesday morning included a totally different story from Debra Villegas. It was headlined "Wife: Jealousy was motive in Lauderdale attorney's killing." Here's how it beings:
The motive behind the killing of Fort Lauderdale attorney Melissa Britt Lewis is pure and simple, according to her best friend.
Debra Villegas alleges that her estranged husband, Tony Villegas, killed her best friend because of how close they were.
''If a dog showed me attention, he'd be jealous of it,'' said Villegas, who is in the midst of a contentious divorce.
``He was jealous of her, and in turn killed her because of it.''
Whoa. That's a total u-turn from the what Debra Villegas told the Sun-Sentinel. Herald reporter Jennifer Mooney Piedra also questions why there is no past record of Tony's alleged abuse and reveals that Debra Villegas owed Lewis about $11,000 for "kitchen work."
Debra Villegas apparently told Piedra that her lawyer advised her not to file a restraining order because it might have prompted him to kill her and that she paid back the loan.
And there's the evidence, which seems scant and insubstantial at this point. Lewis's I-phone (which hasn't been recovered) was tracked to an area near Tony Villegas' apartment and he ran a search on his computer on how to clean Mace of your hands (Mace was found in Lewis' garage after her murder). His lawyers say he Googled the info because someone called him and asked about it. They aren't revealing who made the alleged call, however.
Exhausting is what this thing is. And all the contradictions and holes have led to a lot of commenters on the Herald site to point the finger at Debra Villegas. While Debra's words and actions don't seem consistent and might be challenged, I say only a fool would start throwing accusations around in this case without more info. But the truth is that when the official story is full of gaping holes, people generally fill them in with raw speculation.
I'm giving the Plantation police the benefit of the doubt right now, but they better hope they can fill in those holes with facts soon.
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.