A federal grand jury in Texas indicts Allen Blackthorne in the murder of Sheila Bellush, mother of quadruplets.
By WES ALLISON and ANITA KUMAR
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 5, 2000
A Texas businessman who for two years has battled suspicion in the Sarasota slaying of his ex-wife, Sheila Bellush, was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Texas.
Allen Blackthorne, 44, of San Antonio, was arrested after playing golf near his home Tuesday afternoon. Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office there declined to comment, but an announcement about the case has been scheduled for today in San Antonio.
"We've been waiting two years for this," Blackthorne's attorney, Richard Lubin of West Palm Beach, said of the arrest. "It's actually a blessing. He gets to demonstrate his innocence in court."
The indictment remained sealed Tuesday.
Lubin said he did not know the exact charge but maintained his client's innocence. KMOL-TV in San Antonio said Blackthorne was charged with conspiracy to commit interstate family violence, the Associated Press reported.
Mrs. Bellush, 34, was found shot and stabbed in her Sarasota home on Nov. 7, 1997, as her 2-year-old quadruplets wandered in the blood near her body. Blackthorne has maintained that he had nothing do with her death.
FBI agents and U.S. marshals arrested Blackthorne at Oak Hills Country Club in San Antonio, where he had just finished playing golf.
Lubin said he faxed federal authorities a statement saying that Blackthorne would surrender on his own, but the agents did not respond. Blackthorne was heading to a local police station when he was apprehended, Lubin said.
Friends and family of Bellush reacted to Blackthorne's arrest with relief. Mary Fenlon, a San Antonio attorney and friend of Mrs. Bellush who represented her in a custody fight against Blackthorne, said the wait has been difficult.
"It's about time," Fenlon said Tuesday night from her home. "I was feeling kind of down about it."
But recently, she said, Mrs. Bellush's husband, Jamie Bellush, had told her he had reason to think believe "something was going to happen soon."
"This is just fantastic news," Fenlon said. "I think God is on our side."
After his arrest, Blackthorne was taken to a federal detention center in San Antonio. Lubin said he will have a bond hearing within five days.
"It's really silly to assume that he is a flight risk since he's been waiting around for two years," Lubin said.
Blackthorne's wife, Maureen, reached at the couple's house, said late Tuesday that she had talked to her husband earlier in the day.
"All I can say is he's doing fine," she said.
Early in the murder investigation, police reports indicated that authorities thought Blackthorne may have been the mastermind behind Mrs. Bellush's slaying. A golfing buddy of Blackthorne's, Daniel Alex Rocha, and a friend of Rocha's, Samuel Gonzalez, each are serving prison sentences in Florida for conspiring to hurt Mrs. Bellush.
The alleged shooter, Jose Luis Del Toro, 23, fled to Mexico and was arrested but fought extradition to the United States. He was returned to the United States in July and is scheduled for trial July 10 in Sarasota.
During Rocha's trial last year, Blackthorne's name was mentioned so often that a juror asked the judge why he had not been arrested.
In January, just after Rocha was convicted of paying his friend Gonzalez to hire a hit man to kill Mrs. Bellush, Sarasota's chief assistant state attorney said: "Exactly what (Blackthorne's) involvement is, is open to some question."
That state attorney, Henry Lee, knew at the time that Rocha had implicated Blackthorne as being behind the crime. But Rocha failed three polygraph examinations while trying to plea bargain for a short sentence. His story about Blackthorne's involvement also changed, and he refused to testify unless the charges against him were drastically reduced.
In short, Rocha, the only person who seemingly had information directly linking Blackthorne to his ex-wife's death, was not considered credible by Sarasota prosecutors.
"We had high hopes of bringing this investigation to a close," Lee said. "We were all in there hoping (Rocha) would pass, but he failed."
Federal prosecutors in Texas apparently felt differently.
Gonzalez, serving a 19-year sentence after he agreed to cooperate with authorities, and Rocha, who is serving a life term, were flown from Florida to San Antonio in late October and early November, respectively. They testified before a federal grand jury, said Charlie Roberts, Sarasota assistant state attorney.
Gonzalez has repeatedly testified that Rocha hired him and that he in turn hired his drifter cousin, Del Toro, to kill Mrs. Bellush. But while he thought Blackthorne was behind the deal, Gonzalez was never a direct party to conversations with Blackthorne about it.
Blackthorne and Mrs. Bellush were married for five years and had two daughters, Stevie and Daryl, but the divorce was messy, with each parent alleging that the other abused the girls. Mrs. Bellush eventually obtained custody, and Blackthorne relinquished his parental rights.
The Bellushes married in 1993, after Mrs. Bellush's divorce from Blackthorne, and had the quadruplets. The family then moved to Sarasota to escape Blackthorne.
Authorities allege that Blackthorne wanted to kill or seriously hurt his ex-wife so he could regain custody of their daughters.
Said Blackthorne's attorney, Lubin:
"If there's a silver lining, he finally won't be tried by innueundo and the media.
"We've wanted to do this in a civil way," Lubin said. "Allen has said: "Look, it's no secret I'm under investigation. You want me, here I am. We're prepared to try this case. I've had two years to prepare for this case. I'm ready."'Times staff writer Mike Brassfield and researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.