South Florida

Ex-Wife Takes Stand in Lawyer Murder Trial

The ex-wife of a South Florida man charged with killing a former law partner of notorious Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein took the stand Tuesday in her ex-husband's murder trial.

Debra Coffey didn't want to say her once married last name of Villegas. Her ex-husband, Tony Villegas is accused of murdering Debra's best friend, Melissa Lewis.

Coffey talked fondly about their friendship while on the stand Tuesday.

"She used to come over often, she liked to cook, I did not care to cook, she liked to cook, so she would cook dinner for us, we would not watch movies on Saturday nights," she said.

It was March 2008, and Coffey was divorcing Villegas. Lewis, divorced herself, was coaching Coffey through the process and investigators say that was Villegas' motivation to kill her.

The prosecutor described the attack, inside Lewis' garage, as a manual strangulation, committed by Villegas. Coffey tried to reach Lewis the day after.

"I had been trying to contact her, it was already strange that I had not heard from her and then as appointments were showing up and she was not there I grew more and more concerned," she testified.

Two days later police found Lewis' body in a canal in Plantation. She and Coffey worked together at the law firm run by Fort Lauderdale attorney Scott Rothstein, the Ponzi schemer now serving a 50-year prison term.

Lewis's murder happened more than a year before Rothstein's scheme fell apart.

On Tuesday, jurors saw pictures of the inside of Lewis's home and her garage, with traces of pepper spray that investigators say Lewis used in her struggle with Villegas.

"I believe that was on her nightstand," Coffey testified, saying she also kept it in her purse or on her person.

Lewis's sister Cari and a retired Plantation police officer testified about arriving at Lewis's home after reports of her disappearance. When given the opportunity to cross examine Debra Villegas, defense attorney Bruce Fleisher declined.

Coffey and Villegas have two sons, one of them is expected to testify Wednesday.

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