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Will Rothstein Case Affect Melissa Britt Lewis Murder Trial?

Ever since lawyer Scott Rothstein went missing last week, only to return to the country amid allegations of running a $400 million Ponzi scheme, some observers have wondered how this news might affect one of the story's subplots: the March 2008 murder of Melissa Britt Lewis, a young attorney who worked in Rothstein's firm.

In this article by Bob Norman, Rothstein told Norman that Debra Villegas, another employee, handled all of his accounting.  Villegas's husband, Tony Villegas, was eventually charged with the murder of Lewis.  The motive was supposedly revenge for Lewis's closeness with Debra.  As the murder story unfolded last year, Bob Norman described the case as "mind-boggling" and reported how Debra Villegas had given seemingly conflicting statements to separate media outlets

Villegas's first attorney, Michael Walsh, had suggested Tony Villegas was framed

But yesterday the Juice spoke with Villegas's new attorney, Miami lawyer Bruce Fleisher. "Whatever Mr. Rothstein did -- if he did it -- has nothing to do with the Villegas case," Fleisher said. "Whether his estranged wife knows anything, I don't know." He noted that the prosecutor who had first worked on the Villegas case, Howard Scheinberg, went to work for Rosenfeldt Rothstein Adler, "but I don't think you can come to any conclusion from that."  He added that, "there are other suspects in the case -- namely Melissa's ex-husband."

According to the arrest warrant for Tony Villegas, police received "a copy of an e-mail drafted by victim Lewis dated December 20, 2007, wherin she requested assistance for her friend Debra Villegas (wife of Tony Villegas) stating that 'How hard is it to do a will? My friend Debra is going through a divorce.  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.'" The affidavit does not specify from what account the e-mail was sent, to whom it was sent, or how detectives obtained it.

Police noted that Tony Villegas was a train conductor, and that cell phone pings from the victim's phone in the hours after her death matched up with Tony Villegas's train route.  The affidavit also cites witnesses who claim to have seen Villegas washing pepper spray off his hands the evening the murder was committed.  Villegas remains in jail awaiting trial; Fleisher believes it will be at least a year before the case is tried.  He says Villegas is "holding his own" in there.

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Deirdra Funcheon

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