Jurors in the murder-for-hire trial of Allen Blackthorne deliberated for two hours Thursday night.
By LEANORA MINAI
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 30, 2000
SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Jurors in the murder-for-hire trial of Allen Blackthorne deliberated for two hours Thursday night before adjourning for the evening.
They will return at 9 a.m. today to decide whether Blackthorne is responsible for the murder of his ex-wife, Sheila Bellush.
Before leaving Thursday, jurors picked rodeo clown Brian D. Henry as jury foreman.
Defense attorney Richard Lubin said the decision to continue deliberations means jurors are reviewing all the evidence.
"They want to come back fresh," Lubin said.
In closing statements Thursday, federal prosecutors Richard Durbin and John Murphy told jurors that Blackthorne's defense did not make sense and that his alleged accomplice, Danny Rocha, could not have orchestrated the murder without Blackthorne.
Blackthorne says Rocha wanted to extort him.
"Danny Rocha is not so stupid where he'd concoct an extortion scheme that he'd have to go to jail for it to work," Durbin told jurors.
After closing remarks, the jury was excused at 6:10 p.m. to begin deliberating Blackthorne's fate.
"I think that he's gone," said Mrs. Bellush's aunt, Julie Lee. "He's gone."
Blackthorne, 45, who made millions developing a medical device that stimulates muscles, was indicted earlier this year on federal charges of conspiring to commit a murder for hire and arranging an act of domestic violence across state lines.
During two weeks of testimony, prosecutors said Blackthorne had a "murderous hatred" for his ex-wife and sought revenge after ultimately losing attempts to regain custody of Stevie and Daryl, the daughters from their marriage.
The couple divorced in 1988, but they fought over the children in and out of court for a decade. Several months before Mrs. Bellush was killed, Blackthorne voluntarily gave up parental rights to the girls.
Mrs. Bellush had cited his past charge of sexually assaulting one of the girls in an attempt to convince a San Antonio court to terminate his visitation and increase child support.
After Blackthorne disowned his daughters,
Mrs. Bellush secretly moved to Sarasota with Daryl and Stevie, as well as her husband, Jamie Bellush, and their quadruplet toddlers.
Blackthorne hired a bail bondsman and a private investigator to find his ex-wife. He says he hired them to find his daughters because they were being abused by their mother and stepfather.
Rocha says Blackthorne offered him a stake in a golf course, maybe even a $400,000 loan for a sports bar, if he could find someone to beat up Mrs. Bellush. Rocha said Blackthorne offered the hitman $4,000. Later, Blackthorne offered to throw in an extra $50,000 if he got his daughters back, Rocha said.
Rocha said that when Blackthorne told him to tell the middlemen to use their imagination, he told Blackthorne that his ex-wife could die.
"So be it," Blackthorne said, according to Rocha.
Rocha asked a San Antonio golf course bag boy, Sammy Gonzales, to find someone who would beat or kill Blackthorne's ex-wife. Gonzales turned to his cousin, Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., who, investigators say, drove from Texas to Florida and murdered Mrs. Bellush.
She was killed inside her Sarasota home on Nov. 7, 1997, while her toddlers played nearby.