Man accused of murdering ex-wife’s best friend found guilty

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - A jury found Tony Villegas guilty of first-degree murder of his ex-wife’s best friend, Melissa Britt Lewis, Monday.

The trial took about a week and closing arguments were made Monday morning. The jury then deliberated for less than two hours before they reached a guilty verdict.

According to officials, Tony Villegas, 52, was accused of strangling Lewis, an attorney, at her Plantation home, in March of 2008. Police said Villegas blamed Lewis for the break up of his marriage.

Lewis was found dead in a Plantation canal, with her SUV abandoned nearby. Signs of a struggle were found in her garage, and prosecutors said DNA evidence and electronic pings from Villegas’ cellphone linked Villegas to the murder scene.

On Monday, in their closing remarks, prosecutors noted that Lewis was best friends with Villegas’ wife at the time of her murder, and that Villegas had been jealous of their relationship.

According to prosecutors, Villegas’ DNA was found 16 different times on the suit jacket Lewis was wearing the night she was murdered. “There’s not one other person on the planet earth that could leave the DNA on this jacket that she was so proud of to have bought and worn that day, other than that man right there,” said prosecutor Shari Tate, as she pointed to Villegas.

Lewis’ family addressed Villegas in court. “With this selfish act of jealousy, you not only violated our family, but your own too,” said Lynn Haberl, Lewis’ aunt. “We will all suffer this loss as long as we live, but we forgive you.”

Lewis’ family said that they had to forgive Villegas in order to move on from the tragedy.

Villegas’ ex-wife is also relieved that the trial is over. “I’m happy for Melissa’s family, to get a day of closure for them, they have justice,” she said. “For my kids, it’s obviously very difficult, but also for them, they get to bring this to a close as well.”

Villegas’ attorney also spoke about the conviction. “The conviction to the first-degree is never something we’re hoping for, but there are issues to discuss, an appeal dealing with the Rothstein connection that we were prevented from bringing out and discussing during trial,” he said.

Lewis was convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein’s partner. Villegas’ wife also worked with Rothstein as his chief operating officer. “Rothstein was somewhat tied into organized crime,” Villegas’ lawyer said. “Rothstein was involved in a Ponzi scheme making tons and tons of money, and perhaps there are certain people from the Rothstein firm who found out about this.”

Villegas has yet to be sentenced, but he faces life behind bars.

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