Trial Begins in Murder of Former Rothstein Law Partner

The trial of Tony Villegas, accused of killing Melissa Britt Lewis, a former law partner of Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, gets underway in Fort Lauderdale. (Published Monday, June 20, 2016)

What to Know

  • The murder trial of a Fort Lauderdale man charged with killing a former law partner of notorious Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein will begin.

  • Tony Villegas, now 52, was arrested in 2008 and charged with the death of Melissa Britt Lewis. Lewis was the best friend of Villegas’ ex.

The long awaited murder trial of a Fort Lauderdale man charged with killing a former law partner of notorious Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein is now underway.

Tony Villegas, now 52, was arrested in 2008 and charged with the death of Melissa Britt Lewis. Lewis was the best friend of Villegas’ now ex-wife Debra, who was the COO of the now defunct law firm.

Opening statements took place in the trial of Tony Villegas, charged with killing a former law partner of Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein. NBC 6's Michael Spears has the latest (Published Monday, June 20, 2016)

Prosecutors and investigators do not believe that the murder had anything to do with the $1.6 billion scheme, but that Villegas blamed Lewis for the breakup of his marriage.

Lewis was found dead in a canal near Plantation after her SUV was found nearby. Investigators said a struggle took place inside her garage, using DNA and pings from her cell phone to allegedly connect Villegas to the crime.

Villegas was declared incompetent to stand trial in 2010 and avoided a trial until he was cleared by the state.

On Monday, four witnesses testified for the state, including Villegas' roommate, Wilset Pascual, who said he saw Villegas, at home, scrubbing mace off his hands after the killing.

"I asked him how he got it on him and he told me he was going through some boxes and the bottle burst on him and that is how he got it on him," Pascual testified.

Jurors also saw evidence, pictures of Lewis' vehicle with her jacket in the back, and her last conversation with a co-worker.

Villegas' attorney, Bruce Fleisher, said pieces of the prosecutor's puzzle are missing and will cast doubt in the eyes of the jury.

"All you need is one reasonable doubt as to the guilt of Tony Villegas and the judge will tell you that you have to find him not guilty," Fleisher said.

Debra Villegas, who has been released following a federal prison term for her role in one of the largest Ponzi schemes, is expected to testify as is the couple's son. It is unknown if Rothstein, who is currently serving a 50 year term, will be called.