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Blackthorne on stand: I didn't do it

He tells his side of the story in his ex-wife's death, sometimes crying and sniffling into the microphone.

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 27, 2000


SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The federal prosecutor hammered away at Allen Blackthorne, accusing the Texas millionaire of planning his ex-wife's murder because he could not stand to lose.

"You let your ego and your arrogance and your hatred for Sheila cause you to have her butchered," U.S. Attorney John Murphy said in a packed courtroom Monday.

Blackthorne, in his first statement to authorities since the 1997 murder, testified that he felt somewhat responsible in the death of his ex-wife, Sheila Bellush.

"I think I'm as much to blame as anyone," he said.

But Blackthorne denied any involvement in her death.

"I did not do that," Blackthorne said. "I had nothing to do with this."

Dressed in a brown blazer, tie and hunter green slacks, Blackthorne sat most of the day in the witness box, his legs crossed and hands folded. He told his side of the story, crying and sniffling into the microphone when he spoke about Stevie and Daryl, the two teenage daughters he had with his ex-wife.

Calmly, Blackthorne disputed all of the witnesses who testified that he threatened to hurt or kill Mrs. Bellush. And he said he never asked convicted middleman and golfing buddy Danny Rocha, the prosecution's only link to Blackthorne, if he knew someone who would kill her.

The prosecution spent only an hour and a half on cross examination, trying unsuccessfully to wear Blackthorne down.

Blackthorne's testimony came on the third week of trial. He is charged with conspiring to commit a murder for hire and arranging an act of domestic violence across state lines. In federal custody since his January arrest, the 45-year-old faces up to life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors say Blackthorne sought revenge after a hotly contested divorce and nearly a decade of custody battles that ended in July 1997 with Blackthorne voluntarily giving up his parental rights to Stevie and Daryl to avoid allegations of sexual abuse.

Investigators say Blackthorne promised Rocha a stake in a golf course development or sports bar if he helped him with his ex-wife.

Rocha is serving life in prison for his role in Mrs. Bellush's death. He asked Sammy Gonzales to find someone to hurt or kill her. Gonzales made a deal with prosecutors, and in exchange for his testimony, he will do 19 years in prison. Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., accused of being the killer of Mrs. Bellush, goes on trial in Sarasota next month.

Mrs. Bellush, 35, was shot and stabbed inside her Sarasota home on Nov. 7, 1997, just six weeks after she moved there from San Antonio with Stevie and Daryl, her husband, Jamie Bellush, and their quadruplet toddlers.

Blackthorne says Rocha is the brains behind the murder.

On Monday, Blackthorne looked at the jurors and told them that he didn't like his ex-wife but that he had nothing to do with her death. He said he was happy with his new wife, Maureen Blackthorne, and their two sons. He said he just wanted to get on with his life.

Blackthorne said he did not conceal attempts to hire people to find his ex-wife, who had been charged with child abuse and left for Florida.

Blackthorne said he wanted to find Sheila Bellush only because she and her husband beat the girls and social service agencies did nothing about it.

"Stevie had black eyes," Blackthorne told the jury.

Lubin, his lead attorney, asked Blackthorne why he suddenly gave up parental rights to the girls during hearings in July 1997. Blackthorne, who was trying to regain custody at the time, choked up on the witness stand.

"It just wasn't worth going through the war," he said. ". . . It was better that I bow out."

"Was it easy?" Lubin asked.

Blackthorne, again choking back tears, shook his head no.

"It was hard," he said.

Investigators and prosecutors say Blackthorne relinquished his rights because he feared sexual abuse allegations, which were brought against him when Stevie, now a teenager, was a young child. Those allegations later were dropped.

To this day, Blackthorne said, he feels guilty about giving up his parental rights.

"I didn't give up being their Dad," he said.

On the day of Mrs. Bellush's murder, Blackthorne played golf with his gambling buddy, Rocha. That night, Blackthorne went out to dinner with his wife.

He said he came home to television news reports of her murder and reporters citing him as the suspect.

"I was angry. I was sad," Blackthorne said.

The next day, he hired an attorney.

Lubin asked Blackthorne, after he spent most of the day on the stand, "What do you want to tell the jury?"

Blackthorne turned to jurors.

"I wouldn't want her hurt," he said. "I wouldn't want her killed. She was the mother of Stevie and Daryl."

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