Blackthorne Stands Trial

Will Jurors Find Rocha Credible As Witness?

Ever since Sheila Bellush's body was found on Nov. 7, 1997, her ex-husband had been a suspect in her murder. And from the beginning, Allen Blackthorne maintained his innocence.

"I had absolutely nothing to do with this. Period," he told 48 Hours.

Two and a half years after Sheila Bellush's death, the murder trial of Allen Blackthorne began in San Antonio, Texas.

The trial was held in federal court where no cameras are allowed. During three weeks of testimony, prosecutors presented the jury with more than 400 pieces of evidence they claimed linked Blackthorne to the murder of his ex-wife.

The chief witness against Blackthorne was his old golfing buddy, Danny Rocha. Already convicted and sentenced to life for his role in the killing, Rocha was the only member of the murder conspiracy who had had face-to-face contact with Blackthorne.

When asked if he believed Blackthorne was just as responsible for Bellush's murder as he was, Rocha replied, "Of course. He's more responsible.

"I was just helping a friend. I was just kind of passing this information on," he added.

In three days of testimony, Rocha fingered Blackthorne as the mastermind and financier of the murder plot.

But the question remained: Would the jury believe Rocha, a man who had lied to investigators in the past?

"We knew he'd lied; we knew he had the capability of lying. So we heard what he had to say, and he made certain statements, and they had to be backed up by fact," said a juror.

Prosecutors set out to do just that. They portrayed Blackthorne as a man obsessed with his ex-wife Sheila and who was willing to pay $50,000 to have her badly beaten or killed.

All he had needed was Sheila's new address in Sarasota, Fla. Witnesses were called to show that Blackthorne was someone who would stop at nothing to find her.

"He was very precise in what he wanted," said Chuck Chambers, a Florida private investigator hired by Blackthorne who took the stand. "Cold, straight forward, nonemotional, 'Find her. I want her.'"

Another witness, a former employee of Blackthorne, testified that he asked her to go to a parking lot in Sarasota, where Bellush went to church, and follow her home.

The jury also heard a series of recorded telephone conversations in which Blackthorne, posing as a bookie, called a bail bond company trying to get Sheila Bellush's new address. Blackthorne didn't know that this company routinely recorded its phone calls.

"I'm not asking you to release any information to me. All I'm trying to find out is...have they registered their address with you?" Blackthorne had said. "Can you give me that information?"

And prosecutors said that Blackthorne even lied to his own daughter Daryl to get Sheila's address.

Daryl recalled: "He was like, 'Oh I need the address,' and I'm like, 'Why do you need it?' And he was like, 'cause I'm going to come visit you this Chrstmas. And come see you and spend some time with you.'"

This was a promise that Blackthorne couldn't possibly have kept since he had given up all parental rights to his daughters, agreeing to have nothing to do with them ever again.

When Blackthorne took the stand, he testified that he wanted Sheila Bellush's address for a very different reason - to protect his daughters. Blackthorne told the jurors his girls were being physically abused by Sheila and Jamie Bellush.

Some jurors also had difficulty with Blackthorne's demeanor during his testimony, noting that it seemed mechanical, scripted or staged.

And some jurors said that with all those phone calls to Florida, there was one that Blackthorne didn't make that troubled them: After the tragedy occurred, he didn't call and check on his kids.

A reporter from CBS affiliate KENS summed up the decision rendered in early July of this year, "It's guilty. Guilty on both counts," and added, "When the verdicts were read, Allen Blackthorne just sat there stone-faced,...looking at the jurors."

Sheila Bellush's husband, Jamie, recalled: "I jumped up and down and kept saying 'yes.' It was almost like my team winning the Super Bowl."

Why did Allen Blackthorne, a man who seemed to have it all, a beautiful home, a beautiful wife and children, pay to have Sheila Bellush murdered?

Commented one female juror, "He was blinded by his hate. He didn't think he would get caught," she said. "He was Allen Blackthorne. Nothing was going to happen to him."

On the same day Blackthorne was found guilty in San Antonio, in a Florida courtroom, there was an incredibly dramatic moment: For the first time, Jamie Bellush confronted Joey Del Toro, the man who actually shot Sheila Bellush in the face and cut her throat.

"Mr. Del Toro, I don't know if you're ever seen these pictures of what you did to my wife. I'd like to show them to your family. Does your family realize that when you stabbed her in the neck, the blade of the knife bent on her spinal column?" asked Jamie Bellush.

"Mr. Del Toro, you are a worthless coward with no remorse in your heart," he added. "Your honor, put this cowardly worthless animal in a cage where he can rot away."

Moments later, Del Toro was sentenced to life in prison, with no chance for parole.

"Jamie, you're right. I am a coward. I do deserve to be punished for this terrible thing I did," said Del Toro.

It was finally over. Everyone involved in the conspiracy to murder Sheila Bellush - including its mastermind - was now behind bars. Allen Blackthorne will be sentenced to life without parole in November.

"It's satisfying for me. It's satisfying for my entire family, Sheila's entire family," said Jamie Bellush.

But for the babies - the quadruplets - justice for their mother comes with a terrible cost.

"There are going to be recitals, graduations, weddings where ther's going to be an empty place, an empty spot in their heart," said Jamie Bellush.

"And I just try and do the best I can. And I honor her memory to them. And as they grow up, I'll tell them about her. And what a wonderful woman she was," he added.

Justice for Sheila? Main Page


  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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