A young, ambitious lawyer at a law firm in Florida was brutally murdered back in March 2008. A motive for her slaying was hard to come by initially. Then, a legal issue that her firm was embroiled in only added to the chaos. Investigation Discovery’s ‘Six Degrees of Murder: Going Places’ delves into this very case. The police uncovered a combination of physical and circumstantial evidence to bring the killer to justice. So, if you’re curious about what happened to Melissa, we’ve got you covered.
How Did Melissa Lewis Die?
Melissa was born in Jacksonville, Florida, in November 1968. The beloved 39-year-old initially worked at a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, before she got her GED and went to college. She always wanted to be a lawyer, and her dream came true after university. She worked for Rothstein Rosenfeldt & Adler, eventually making partner. Her success and busy work did not keep her from her family, especially her nieces, whom she was very close to.
Melissa returned from work sometime in the evening on March 5, 2008, but she didn’t show up the next day. Her co-workers were worried and looked for her. A pest exterminator also came by Melissa’s home to find the garage door open and her car missing, an ominous sign. The search for her ended in tragedy when her body was found in a canal. She had been strangled to death. Melissa’s car was found later in a parking lot not too far from the body’s location.
Who Killed Melissa Lewis?
The investigators started to question everyone involved in Melissa’s life. Sometime in 2002, she married a lawyer, but that ended in divorce about five years later. At the firm, one of Melissa’s closest friends was Debra Villegas, who was the COO. The two spent a lot of time together, with Melissa cooking for her children and going out on family vacations with them. Debra was estranged from her husband, Tony Villegas, at the time. Both Debra and her children stated that he was abusive.
Around the time Debra separated from Tony, Melissa grew closer to her. Debra’s son, Caleb, later testified that his father didn’t like that. He stated that Tony blamed Melissa for his separation, adding, “At one point, he told me that he felt Melissa and my mom were scheming, and they were getting a divorce around the same time so they could hang out.” The investigators arrested Tony a week after the murder. They had ample evidence pointing to his guilt.
Tony stood trial in 2016 after initially being ruled incompetent in 2010. A witness stated that she saw a car similar to Tony’s in the parking lot where Melissa’s car was eventually found. A man who had rented Tony a room stated that he saw him wash his hands and arms to remove pepper spray residue. The authorities earlier confirmed that pepper spray had been used in the garage.
Debra, who was by then divorced and went by the last name Coffey, testified that Tony had threatened both of them in the past. She said, “We talked about it, neither one of us wanted a gun, she was living alone, so she felt she needed something to, you know I was going through a difficult divorce and living on my own as well, so I decided on a Taser, and she decided on pepper spray.” The most damning evidence came in the form of physical evidence. Tony’s DNA was found on the jacket Melissa had been wearing on the night of her murder. It was found in her car.
Where is Tony Villegas Now?
In July 2016, Tony was found guilty of first-degree murder. The defense didn’t provide an alternative motive for the murder but stressed reasonable doubt. There was speculation of the murder being related to Scott Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme, but Melissa was never implicated in that case. In the same month, Tony was sentenced to life in prison. Melissa’s aunt said after his conviction, “With this selfish act of jealousy, you not only violated our family but your own too. We will all suffer this loss as long as we live, but we forgive you.” He remains incarcerated at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City, Florida.
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