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Chronology of events

By Times staff writers

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 7, 2000

Timeline of events in the murder of Sheila Bellush and subsequent trials.

  • NOV. 11: Sarasota County sheriff's detectives say Jose Luis Del Toro of Texas is wanted for first-degree murder in Bellush's death. They say he left a bloody fingerprint and was at a Sarasota hotel the night before the killing. A nationwide manhunt begins. It goes international when Del Toro enters Mexico

  • NOV. 17: Two San Antonio, Texas, men, Daniel Alex Rocha and Samuel Gonzales, are arrested in Texas on Florida charges that they helped plan Bellush's murder. Rocha golfed with Bellush's ex-husband, San Antonio businessman Allen Blackthorne, the day she was killed.

  • NOV. 18: Allen Blackthorne hires a prominent Texas lawyer who declares Blackthorne innocent.

  • NOV. 20: Del Toro is captured in Monterrey, Mexico.

  • NOV. 22: Mexican officials say they will not extradite Del Toro unless Sarasota prosecutors agree not to seek the death penalty in his case.

  • DEC. 3: A Texas grand jury indicts Gonzales on one count of solicitation to commit capital murder, accusing him of hiring Del Toro for the killing.

  • DEC. 16: Rocha is indicted in Texas on the same charge.

  • DEC. 17: Gonzales agrees to cooperate with prosecutors and pleads guilty to the Texas charges. Sarasota prosecutors decide not to seek the death penalty against Del Toro.

  • JAN. 28, 1998: A Sarasota judge rules that Bradenton private investigator Chuck Chambers, who was hired by an unknown person to find Bellush, can turn over documents to police despite protests from the client.

  • FEB. 21: Gonzales arrives at the Sarasota County Jail from San Antonio, becoming the first suspect to arrive in Sarasota. He enters a plea of not guilty.

  • MARCH 3: A Mexican judge rules Del Toro should return to the United States to face murder charges. Del Toro appeals, delaying his return.

  • MARCH 8: Daniel Rocha arrives at the Sarasota County Jail from San Antonio.

  • MARCH 25: Mexico's Foreign Ministry orders that Del Toro be extradited to the United States.

  • APRIL 8: Del Toro's Mexican attorney appeals the Foreign Ministry decision with an "amparo," a common legal maneuver that protects Mexican citizens from abusive government action. Del Toro's return could be delayed as long as 90 days.

  • APRIL 14: Rocha enters a not guilty plea.

  • JUNE 12: Gonzales pleads guilty in Sarasota to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Rocha is indicted by a grand jury on a charge of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. His attorneys release documents implicating Allen Blackthorne, Sheila's ex-husband, as the mastermind.

  • JAN. 15, 1999: Rocha is convicted of being the "middleman" in the death of Mrs. Bellush. He is sentenced to life in prison.

  • JULY 13: Del Toro is jailed in Sarasota in the death of Mrs. Bellush. The international tug of war to get him back from Mexico took 20 months. The next day, Del Toro pleaded not guilty.

  • JAN. 4, 2000: A federal grand jury in Texas indicts Blackthorne in the murder. He is charged with conspiring to commit a murder for hire and with arranging an act of domestic violence over state lines. A Texas indictment accused him of taking part in a plot that he should reasonably have known would end in Mrs. Bellush's death.

  • JUNE 12: Testimony in Blackthorne's trial begins.

  • JUNE 29: Jury begins deliberations in Blackthorne case.

  • JULY 6: Just hours after Del Toro pleads guilty to first-degree murder and armed burglary in the death of Mrs. Bellush, a federal jury finds Blackthorne guilty of the two charges against him. Del Toro is immediately sentenced to two consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole, while Blackthorne will learn his fate Nov. 2. He faces life in prison.

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