A Key Arrest

Police Say They Have New Evidence

In hopes of getting Allen Blackthorne, prosecutors offered Danny Rocha a deal: a reduced sentence in exchange for fingering his golfing buddy. Rocha turned it down.

The case went to trial. His lawyer argued that Rocha was guilty only of planning to assault Sheila Bellush, not to murder her. Although Rocha didn't take the stand at his trial, he did talk to 48 Hours.

Blackthorne would often complain to him that Sheila Bellush was physically abusing their two daughters, Stevie and Daryl, Rocha said. Rocha claimed he was convinced the abuse charges were true, especially after police arrested Sheila Bellush for beating Daryl with a belt. Daryl now says that with her father's encouragement, she exaggerated the things that happened.

Rocha said that Blackthorne asked him to have Sheila Bellush roughed up. That is what he arranged, he said. "I knew it was wrong, but I thought it was helping," Rocha said. "I thought it was helping two children."

But prosecutors said Rocha was not quite so altruistic. Blackthorne, they said, was going to reward Rocha with a partnership in a new golf course.

Rocha said that he then called his friend Sammy Gonzales, the third man arrested in the murder conspiracy. Gonzales, who cut his own deal with prosecutors, testified against Rocha.

According to Gonzales' testimony, Rocha told him that Blackthorne asked to have his ex-wife beaten. Rocha gave him $4,000 to rough up Sheila Bellush, Gonzales said.

Gonzales then recruited his cousin Joey Del Toro to do the job, Gonzales said. "(Del Toro) was athletic," Gonzales said. "Very quick, very, very powerful." Gonzales also heard that Blackthorne had sweetened the deal: "Danny told me he's willing to pay (a) $10,000 incentive, no questions asked, when and if he gets his daughters back."

Murder wasn't part of the plan, Rocha said. In any case, authorities said Del Toro got a gun and drove 1,200 miles to Sarasota, Fla., where he shot Sheila Bellush in the face and slashed her throat.

After three days of testimony, the state rested its case, and all of a sudden, the deal Rocha turned down looked more appealing. Rocha decided to negotiate.

But before the deal could be made, Rocha had to pass a lie-detector test. He failed, on six different questions about Blackthorne's involvement. Every time he was asked if Blackthorne had asked him to kill Sheila Bellush, the polygraph indicated that Rocha was lying.

The deal collapsed. Without any leverage - the ability to implicate Blackthorne - Rocha had to face the jury's decision. And the case against Blackthorne crumbled. According to Sarasota prosecutor Henry Lee, Rocha was the only witness who could tie Blackthorne to the murder.

On Jan. 15, 1999, after five hours of deliberating, the jury came back with a guilty verdict. Rocha was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The man accused of actually killing Sheila, Del Toro, was extradited from Mxico in July 1999. He was due to go on trial for murder in July 2000, and he pleaded not guilty.

After the trial, Jamie Bellush moved his six children back to the small town in New Jersey where he grew up. He also filed a $38 million wrongful death suit against Blackthorne.

"I am still confident that Alan Blackthorne will eventually be arrested and tried for her murder," he said last year, pointing out that there is no statute of limitations in murder cases.

Then in early January of this year, Blackthorne was arrested after a round of golf at a San Antonio country club, on charges of murder conspiracy, a crime that makes him eligible for the death penalty.

Ruling that Blackthorne was a flight risk, a judge denied bail on Jan. 13. But getting a conviction will not be easy. The lead witness, Rocha, has told prosecutors different versions of what Blackthorne allegedly hired him to do. And Blackthorne has hired several defense attorneys.

The father of the young quadruplets says they don't understand what happened to their mother - only that she is not with them.

"I'm a strong supporter of the death penalty," Jamie Bellush said, fighting back tears. "If you look at those crime scenes and the way that she was murdered, the way she suffered, the way the children suffered and the emotional anguish and pain that we've all gone through and will continue to go through, Allen Blackthorne should be executed for starting this thing."

Go on to Blackthorne Stands Trial

Justice For Sheila? Main Page


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