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Did friendship cost Rothstein lawyer Melissa Lewis her life?

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The last straw came one night when Debra's 10-year-old son wasn't finishing his homework fast enough to please Tony, Debra later told police. So Tony "picks up a textbook, whacks [his son] across the head, drags him down the hallway, throws him in his bedroom," Debra told police. Aimee, who was pregnant, tried to step in and help her little brother. Tony threw her across the living room "and bounced her like a basketball," Debra said.

After Tony moved out, Melissa became Debra's support system, Aimee told police. "She's my mom's backbone," she said. "My mom, without Melissa, she wouldn't have ever left [Tony].

"She gets my mom food in the morning. My mom, with all her medical problems, if she's in bed and depressed, [Melissa is] like, 'Get out of bed, let's go, get dressed!' or putting her clothes on for her," Aimee said. "I don't even think my mom would be where she was today without Melissa."

Lucy and Ethel, now both single, spent more time together — sharing lunch breaks, texting before bed every night.

"I know Melissa wanted to spend extra time sometimes with Debra, to kinda protect her," Christina Kitterman, another Rothstein attorney and friend of Melissa's, told police.

After work, Melissa wasn't eager to stay home alone in an empty house, so she would go to Debra's to cook and laugh and be with her adopted family.

"I always joke, 'Yep, Melissa's our dad,'" Aimee told police. "She does our groceries, she takes care of us, she spoils us at Christmastime, she spoils my son. We go to the Keys together. She makes sure we have everything that we need."

Her generosity was essential to the Villegas family as Debra pursued a new life without Tony. And it didn't go unnoticed.

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Melissa's sister, Carrie Fisher, and her then-fiancé, Jon Holmberg, spent Thanksgiving and Christmas 2007 at Melissa's house in Plantation. One day during the holidays, Holmberg later told police, he overheard Melissa talking to Carrie about Tony. Melissa said Tony had threatened to set Debra on fire.

Wanting to protect themselves, Debra bought a Taser, and Melissa bought Mace, Holmberg remembered Melissa saying. "And I told her she should have got a gun," Holmberg said.

In mid-December 2007, Melissa sent an email to some of her lawyer friends asking how hard it was to do a will. She was thinking of protecting Debra's children in case Tony did something drastic. "My friend Debra is going through a divorce," she wrote. "Her ex-husband is nuts. To be on the safe side, she wants to be sure she designates who gets her children if he hurts her and goes to jail. Seems extreme, but you have NO IDEA what is going on and restraining orders are worthless."

Around this time, Tony Villegas was keeping a makeshift diary in his day planner. He filled it with entries about how much he missed his family. He also knew Debra had been spending a lot of time with friends at the Round Up Country Western Club in Davie.

"Missing my family," he wrote in a December 12 entry. "Mad at her but loving her so that it hurts... She look like she in love. At Round Up with some guy for 3 hrs. outside making out. Tony you don't like flys on you meat. Forget her."

A few days later, he added, "Remember Tony, she don't love you. She laffing at you."

According to his son Caleb, Tony was also aware of how much time Melissa and Debra were spending together. In fact, Caleb told police that his dad blamed Melissa for Debra's filing for divorce, and that case is still pending.

Once, when Tony came to collect Caleb and his brother for a weekend visit, he noticed Melissa's car at the house. And he brought up the issue to his sons.

"He's like, 'The reason that we probably got a divorce [was] so they can spend more time [together],'" Caleb told Plantation Police. "'Cause she had gotten a divorce; Melissa got a divorce from her husband the same time as my mom and dad got a divorce. So [Tony] thought it was planned for awhile, like they were planning to get a divorce at the same time."

"Did he seem at all upset about that?" a detective asked Caleb.

"Yeah," Caleb replied.

"OK. Did he tell you anything more than what you told me?"

"Not really," Caleb said. "He just thought it was her fault."

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On March 5, 2008, Melissa left the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler offices on Las Olas Boulevard around 7 p.m. She stopped at a Publix near her home in Plantation and picked up a few groceries. She called her 11-year-old niece, Sheila, to discuss the Jonas Brothers concert they were planning to attend that week.

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab