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Daughter recalls finding mother slain

Sheila Bellush's daughter testifies against her father, Allen Blackthorne, who is on trial in Bellush's death.

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000


SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The daughter who found Sheila Bellush covered in blood recounted Monday the horrifying discovery and said her father, the millionaire accused of arranging the killing, told her he hated her mother and wanted her dead.

Stevie Bellush, 16, described her father, Allen Blackthorne, as manipulative and controlling.

"There was an incident with Allen when he beat me up pretty badly," Stevie Bellush told jurors. "I had bruises on my back, on my arm, on my face."

She and two other key witnesses testified Monday after federal prosecutors and defense attorneys each gave 45-minute opening statements in the murder-for-hire case against Blackthorne.

Mrs. Bellush's widower, Jamie Bellush, and Danny Rocha, the convicted middleman and golfing buddy of Blackthorne, also testified. Rocha, who once bet about $24,000 with Blackthorne on the golf course, spent 40 minutes describing his gambling on the links. He is expected to lay out the alleged contract killing scheme in more testimony today.

Blackthorne, 45, is accused of conspiring to commit murder for hire and of arranging an act of domestic violence across state lines.

His wife, Maureen Blackthorne, sat several rows behind him, taking notes. Blackthorne craned his neck to catch her eye.

"Hi baby," he mouthed. "I love you."

Prosecutors say Blackthorne sought revenge after the end of a bitter nine-year custody fight over Stevie and Daryl, the daughters he had with his ex-wife.

Prosecutors say Blackthorne asked Rocha to find someone to kill Mrs. Bellush.

They say Rocha approached his friend, Sammy Gonzales, who turned to his cousin, Jose Luis Del Toro Jr. Authorities say Del Toro drove from Texas to Sarasota to kill Mrs. Bellush.

"... To accomplish what he couldn't do in the courts because Allen Blackthorne does not lose. He always wins," said John Murphy, a federal prosecutor.

But Blackthorne's attorneys call Rocha the mastermind behind the killing. They say he wanted to extort money from Blackthorne.

Lead defense attorney Richard Lubin read from letters Rocha wrote to a friend, begging him to lie for him and say he witnessed Blackthorne handing off cash payment for the hit.

Mrs. Bellush, 35, was found shot and stabbed in her Sarasota home on Nov. 7, 1997, just six weeks after she moved there from San Antonio with her husband, Jamie Bellush, the father of their quadruplets.

A recording of the 911 call was played, with Stevie Bellush sobbing and the quadruplets' wailing in the background. Blackthorne sat in a light gray suit, expressionless and staring straight ahead.

"My mom is dead," she cried to the 911 dispatcher. "There's blood all over the phone, and there's a cut on her neck."

Then Stevie Bellush, dressed in a gray V-neck dress, white shirt and gray cardigan, took the stand to describe that day. As she talked, she fingered a silver necklace with a heart-shaped pendant.

After she hopped off the school bus that day, she walked into the family's Sarasota home. She found her quadruplet siblings crying and wearing only life vests. She searched room to room for her mother.

"I found my mom laying on the floor in the doorway of the kitchen," she said. "She was covered in blood. I could see her throat was slit. There was blood everywhere."

She bent down. "Mom? Mom?" she asked.

"I thought she was playing a trick on me," Stevie Bellush said.

Prosecutors say Blackthorne offered as much as $14,000 to have his wife killed, or injured to the point that he would have to care for his daughters.

"This is not a pretty case," said Murphy, the federal prosecutor. It involves an ugly divorce, an ugly relationship, a horrible killing."

Blackthorne's attorneys say Rocha wrote letters to friends, asking them to say he was being framed. In another letter, Rocha asked a golfing buddy and friend, Tom Garcia, to make up a story.

Rocha asked Garcia to hold a press conference and say that he witnessed Blackthorne give Rocha $4,000, that it was for operation Blackcow and that Blackthorne told Rocha to tell Gonzales to "make it quick."

Rocha suggested a quote for the press conference: "No one is above the law."

"Rocha is a carnivore" Lubin said. "He lives off others. Allen is a businessman, self-taught, successful. Golf and gambling were his weaknesses. For Rocha, this was a perfect match."

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