At a Broward County court hearing on his mental health this afternoon, Tony Villegas sat quietly between his two attorneys, crying softly.
The man accused of strangling Melissa Britt Lewis and dumping her body in a canal two years ago looked thin and stricken, his brown beard shaggy and his body occasionally shaking involuntarily.
Three different forensic psychologists testified that his overwhelming sadness was a symptom of Villegas' depressed mood. They said he would break down in tears when discussing topics such as his family and the first-degree murder charge against him. Antidepressants help; however, Villegas has refused to take them while he's in jail.Which
explains why the debate over Villegas' mental competency has dragged on for six months.
In April, doctors deemed Villegas,47, unfit for trial, and sent him to a state-run hospital. Over the course of two months there, he voluntarily took Celexa, an antidepressant, and his condition improved.
Dr. Dawn Grandinetti, who evaluated him before he was released in June, testified that he never complained to her about any side effects from the meds. She diagnosed him with "adjustment disorder with depressed mood" -- meaning his condition was caused by the admittedly dismaying situation of being charged with first-degree murder and facing the death penalty.
Before he was released from the hospital, Grandinetti deemed Villegas competent to stand trial. But she testified that when it was time for him to go back behind bars, Villegas became "tearful," and told her "jail is a nasty place."
Upon returning to the Broward County Jail, Villegas refused to take his medication. He told another psychologist that "he did not feel well while taking it," Assistant State Attorney Alberto Ribas said.
And the lack of treatment took a visible toll on his health. A third psychologist, Dr. Michael Brannon, evaluated Villegas in October and found that he was once again incompetent. Without the meds, Villegas may have trouble testifying and communicating with his lawyers, Brannon testified.
"He appeared lethargic, unmotivated to assist himself," Brannon said. "He can't elaborate, has difficulty clarifying."
"Do you believe his tears are genuine?" Ribas asked Brannon.
"Yes," the doctor replied.
All the doctors agreed that Villegas would be competent if he took the medication. Ribas argued that Villegas was simply refusing the pills so he could return to a hospital bed that was more comfortable than a jail cell.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to New Times Broward-Palm Beach's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling South Florida's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"I think he's manipulating the system," Ribas told Judge William Haury Jr. "He doesn't want to be in the jail, he wants to be in the state hospital."
Villegas' attorney, Bruce Fleisher, countered by saying that Villegas was "an emotional wreck. We will try our best to get him on track."
Ultimately, Haury ruled that Villegas was not competent, and should be sent back to the state hospital to receive treatment.
Of course, if Villegas refuses to take the medication again, he could land right back in court.