FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – The verdict is in for a man accused of killing a Plantation attorney and then dumping her body in a canal.READ MORE: New FBI report finds active shooter attacks on the rise
A Broward jury found Tony Villegas guilty of 1st degree murder Monday afternoon. Following the verdict, the judge immediately sentenced him to life in prison.
Villegas had no reaction to being found guilty.
Prosecutors said he killed Melissa Britt Lewis in March 2008 because he blamed her for the break up of the marriage with his wife Debra, who was Lewis’ best friend.
Lewis was ambushed at her Plantation home, strangled and then her body was dumped in a canal.
“There’s now and forever a gaping hole and a lot of what if she were here in our hearts and our minds,” said Leiws’ aunt Lynn Haberl.
Haberl wrote a letter addressing Villegas directly just before he was sentenced.
“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,” said Haberl.
Villegas chose not to speak after the verdict was read.
Outside of court, Lewis’ mother Lisa LaPointe said the family felt they were given justice.READ MORE: MDPD: Miami Beach Senior High Teacher Arrested For Engaging In Child Pornography
“I was extremely proud of her. The whole family was extremely proud of her. She was going to be the next matriarch in the family and she was just taken away just like that,” said LaPointe.
Last week, Debra Villegas testified that her ex-husband was a violent man and had threatened them. She said she and Lewis armed themselves against his threats.
“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,” Villegas testified.
She said during their nasty divorce her husband told her something that may have foreshadowed violence.
“‘You think you’re on top now,'” she quoted him as saying. ‘”But you and your friends will be sorry. I’m going to win in the end.'”
Police found pepper spray residue in the garage of Lewis home. Debra Villegas’ roommate testified that when he came home the day of Lewis’s disappearance, he found Tony Villegas washing pepper spray off of his hands and arms.
Tony Villegas’ DNA was found on Lewis suit jacket in her abandoned SUV, according to court records which also stated that a button that had been torn from it was found on her garage floor.
Tracking records showed Lewis’ cell phone went back and forth between Broward and Miami-Dade along the FEC train line after her death. Villegas was a conductor on the train.
Lewis was a law partner of notorious convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein. For her role in Rothstein’s $1.6 billion Ponzi scheme, she was sentenced to 10-years in prison. She won early release for cooperating with the state.
Meantime, Villegas says he’s innocent and his lawyer Bruce Fleisher said the outcome might have been different if he had been allowed to talk about Rothstein during the trial.MORE NEWS: Texas school shooting once again raising safety concerns across South Florida
“Rothstein was somewhat tied into organized crime. Rothstein was involved in a Ponzi scheme, making tons and tons of money and perhaps there are certain people from the Rothstein firm who found out about this and that was not good for the firm,” said Fleisher.