Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bond hearing set in slaying of Lauderdale lawyer

Mar 20, 2008 (The Miami Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX)

The man accused of strangling a Fort Lauderdale attorney and dumping her body into a canal will appear before a Broward judge Thursday for a bond hearing.

Tony Villegas, 44, is charged with premeditated first-degree murder in the death of Melissa Britt Lewis of Plantation, sources close to the investigation told The Miami Herald.

If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Villegas, of Miami Lakes, was arrested early Saturday at his sister's house in North Miami-Dade and booked into a county jail.

He was transported to the Broward County Main Jail on Wednesday morning.

Police said they are confident Villegas killed Lewis, a partner with the Las Olas Boulevard firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler.

His estranged wife, Debra Villegas, was Lewis' best friend.


Authorities said Lewis, 39, was strangled inside her garage, where police found traces of Mace and a button from her suit jacket.

She was last seen the night of March 5 at a nearby Publix, where she had gone shopping after work. Her Cadillac sport utility vehicle was found abandoned in a parking lot near her home.

Lewis' body was discovered March 7 in a canal near State Road 84 and Pine Island Road. Police have released little information about Lewis' slaying and a possible motive. Arrest warrants and other court documents have been sealed.


Detective Phil Toman, a Plantation police spokesman, said evidence is still being collected, but he doesn't expect any other arrests will be made.

"We pretty much have ruled everybody else out," he said Wednesday.

Soon, the prosecution will present evidence and witness testimony before a Broward County grand jury, a closed proceeding where the defense is not permitted to state its case.

If grand jurors find probable cause Villegas committed the crime, they will return an indictment.

Defense attorneys representing Villegas say he is innocent and is being framed.

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