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Criminal Justice

Best Friend’s Ex Charged in Florida Attorney’s Murder

Posted Mar 17, 2008 9:15 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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An attorney whose body was found in a canal near her South Florida home March 7 was murdered by her best friend's estranged husband, police say.

They have charged Tony Villegas, 44, in the death of lawyer Melissa Lewis, 39, and he was arraigned today, according to the Miami Herald. "Plantation police have said they have 'overwhelming' evidence tying Villegas to Lewis' killing, but they have not made public any details—including a motive or how she died," the newspaper reports.

Later, however, police said "new evidence showed that Tony Villegas used his bare hands to strangle Melissa Lewis to death," reports a local NBC News affiliate. His family expressed shock and disbelief over his arrest, and his lawyer said he was framed, the station reports.

The Sun-Sentinel says that Lewis was strangled to death within the garage of her home, and quotes Dr. Joshua Perper, the chief medical examiner for Broward County, as saying that "it's an emotional stress of great magnitude for someone to do that."

Debra Villegas says she believes her ex strangled Lewis because her best friend was helping her deal with a difficult divorce. "I just have an overwhelming amount of guilt for it," she told the NBC station. "I know that I didn't do this to her, but because of me, it happened to her. That's just something I have to live with."

Police initially theorized that Lewis might have been a random abduction target, but later said she might have known her killer, as discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post. A labor and employment lawyer at Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, she had recently made partner there.

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