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Texas Man Guilty In Murder-For-Hire

Nicole Scherzinger, lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, performs during a concert to benefit the Snoop Youth Football League at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on Oct. 25, 2006.
AP Photo/Matt Sayles
A federal jury found a millionaire guilty Thursday of arranging the murder of his ex-wife, the mother of six children including a set of quadruplets.

The verdict came hours after a man pleaded guilty in Florida to fatally shooting and stabbing Sheila Bellush on Nov. 7, 1997, in Sarasota, Fla., as her 2-year-old quadruplets played nearby. After entering the plea, Jose Luis Del Toro Jr. sang a song in court asking for forgiveness.

The quadruplets, from Bellush's second marriage, were discovered unharmed in her house, two of them crawling in her blood.

Bellush's ex-husband, Allen Blackthorne, 45, was convicted of interstate conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and interstate domestic violence. He faces a mandatory life sentence.

Blackthorne was the last of four people suspected in her slaying to be convicted.

Besides Del Toro pleading guilty and facing a mandatory life sentence, the man who hired him, his cousin Sammy Gonzales, has been sentenced to 19 years in prison.

Daniel Rocha, Blackthorne's golfing buddy and the man who asked Gonzales to find someone to kill or harm Bellush, is serving life in prison.

Testimony in Blackthorne's case began June 12 when Stevie Bellush, the daughter of Blackthorne and his ex-wife, testified she discovered her mother's body in 1997 in her Sarasota home. She found her mother dead on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. Sheila Bellush had been shot in the cheek and her throat had been slit.

"My mother is dead," a sobbing Stevie Bellush was heard saying on a 911 tape. She was 13 at the time.

She discovered the 2-year-old quadruplets wearing their lifejackets (because there was a pool in the backyard).

Stevie Bellush, along with her younger sister Daryl, has been adopted by their mother's second husband, Jamie Bellush, after Blackthorne gave up custody.

Prosecutors portrayed Blackthorne as a man who hated his ex-wife and who, after a string of custody battles, turned his hatred into a scheme to have her killed.

In testimony, Blackthorne was said to have offered up to $54,000 to have her killed. The $54,000 included a bonus if he regained custody of his daughters. Prosecutors say he also hired private investigators to track down Bellush after she moved from Texas.

Prosecutors even turned Blackthorne's own name against him.

Blackthorne was born Allen William Van Houte in Eugene, Ore., on June 5, 1955. Prosecutors told the jury how he legally became Allen Blackthorne in 1986 shortly after he left behind $300,000 in debts in Hawaii and moved to San Antonio.

"Even his name is a lie, chosen to deceive creditors from Hawaii," Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin said during final arguments last week.

Blackthorne took the stand, admitting he once threatened to kill Bellush because he thought she was negligent as a mother to their two daughters.

Blackthorne testified he once became so pset after a daughter fell out of a second-story window that he told Bellush he would kill her if "anything happens to my kids."

In the Sarasota courtroom, Bellush's widower addressed Del Toro after the defendant pleaded guilty and held up photos of his wife's bloody body.

"I'd like to show them to your family. Does your family realize that when you stabbed her, that the blade of the knife bent on her spinal column?" Jamie Bellush bellowed.

"Mr. Del Toro you're a worthless coward!" he said. "It's unfortunate that I could not stand and watch you take your last breath with a needle in your arm."

Del Toro, speaking softly, then told Bellush he agreed, saying "I do deserve to die," and began a 35-minute speech to his victim's family that included his song.

"Beautiful. That's how mercy saw me," Del Toro sang, standing at the podium facing Jamie Bellush. "I was broken and so lost. Mercy looked past all my faults. The mercy of God saw what I had done -- not what I was, but how I would be. That's how mercy saw me."