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    Two life sentences, daughter's hatred

    For his role in the murder of his ex-wife, Allen Blackthorne received more punishment than jail time.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000


    SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Daryl Bellush stood in a Texas courtroom on Thursday with her back to her father. Two times she called him "dad."

    But she doesn't want to say the word ever again.

    Previous Times' coverage of the Sheila Bellush murder
    Her father, Allen Blackthorne, is a man she said she wants to hurt with her words as much as he hurt everyone in his life with one evil deed. He arranged the killing of her mother, Sheila Bellush, and there is no forgiveness in a 15-year-old's heart for that.

    "He's given me the ability to hate," Daryl told a judge who was about to sentence her father. "I have so much hate in me, it would last the world 100 years. And all that hate is directed at him."

    Blackthorne knew the inevitable life sentence a federal judge was about to impose on him. But there would be more punishment than that. It came in his daughter's words.

    "From this day forward," Daryl said, "I do not consider him as my dad, or even anybody that I have memories of."

    Blackthorne rocked gently in his chair, quickly whispering into his attorney's ear.

    Blackthorne, 45, looking haggard from a dramatic weight loss in the months since his January arrest, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole during an hourlong hearing for his role in the Nov. 7, 1997, killing of his ex-wife.

    U.S. District Judge Edward Prado imposed two concurrent life terms for Blackthorne's July convictions of conspiring to commit murder-for-hire and arranging an act of domestic violence across state lines. Blackthorne was also fined $250,000.

    His fate had been determined when a federal jury of eight men and four women found him guilty of the crimes on July 6 after a four-week trial. The life term is mandatory under federal law.

    Neither Blackthorne nor his wife, Maureen, displayed any emotion as the judge handed down the sentence without comment.

    Blackthorne, wearing white sneakers and a bright orange jail uniform, was asked before sentencing if he wanted to address the court. But he stood and shook his head.

    "I have nothing to say, your honor."

    Except for the appeals that Blackthorne's attorneys say they soon plan to file, the sentencing brings to an end the 3-year-old case of the San Antonio millionaire who prosecutors say plotted the vengeful murder of his ex-wife, a mother of six, including quadruplets.

    Bellush, 35, was killed in her Sarasota home by hit man Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., who pleaded guilty to murder charges and was sentenced to life in prison in Florida the day a Texas jury convicted Blackthorne.

    The middleman in the murder plot was Daniel Rocha, Blackthorne's golfing and gambling buddy whose testimony helped convict him.

    Rocha has since recanted his testimony, but the judge dismissed his reversal, saying it lacked credibility.

    "The government wants to rely on Mr. Rocha when it benefits them, and ignore him when it doesn't," Blackthorne's attorney, David Botsford, told reporters outside the courthouse. "Allen Blackthorne is an innocent man. The fight has just begun."

    Maureen Blackthorne stood beside the attorney but refused to answer reporters' questions.

    Texas officials do not plan to try Blackthorne on a separate state murder charge given the result in federal court.

    "He got what he so richly deserved," said Susan Reed, the district attorney for Bexar County, Texas, whose office also investigated Blackthorne. "He's not going to be on the golf course anymore."

    In a sense, that's where the murder plot was hatched, say prosecutors. Blackthorne, who made his money by developing a medical device that stimulates muscles, played golf constantly, including rounds with Rocha. Prosecutors say Blackthorne asked Rocha to arrange the killing.

    Rocha, 31, in turn, approached San Antonio golf course bag boy Samuel Gonzales to find someone for the job. Gonzales, 30, asked his cousin, Del Toro.

    Rocha was offered a partnership in a golf course development, maybe even a $400,000 loan for a sports bar. The hit man would be paid $4,000.

    Del Toro, 24, a former high school football player from a small town 90 miles southwest of San Antonio, drove to Florida for the killing. He shot and stabbed Mrs. Bellush at her home just six weeks after she moved to Sarasota from San Antonio with the daughters she had with Blackthorne, Daryl and Stevie.

    She lived with her husband, Jamie Bellush, and their quadruplets, who are now almost 5.

    Blackthorne's motive was anger, prosecutors say. He was angry because he had been forced to relinquish visitation rights to his daughters when Mrs. Bellush threatened to use an old claim that he sexually abused one of them.

    Jamie Bellush, 38, did not attend Blackthorne's sentencing. He said he was finished worrying about Blackthorne and wants to get on with life.

    "That son of a b---- is going to the place where he belongs," Bellush said. "He's taken so much from my life already, I didn't want to see him again. I'm through with him."

    He was one of the few to stay behind. The courtroom was packed with up to 100 people who have watched and investigated the case the past three years. Just one of the 12 jurors who convicted Blackthorne came to watch his sentencing.

    "I know firsthand how (Blackthorne) hates to lose," Kerry Bladorn, Mrs. Bellush's sister, told the judge. "He used to brag about beating the system. . . . But if you keep cheating the system, sooner or later your house of cards falls. And that time has come."

    Daryl Bellush said she can never rid herself of the anger she feels at her father, blaming him for nearly erasing all memories of her mother.

    "Fortunately, I can look in the mirror and see how she might have looked," she said. "But it's not the same."

    Daryl said she knew her father was lying when Blackthorne professed his innocence to reporters. She said she could see it in the way his eyes "bugged out."

    "Maybe one day he can gather up enough courage to admit that he did it," she said. "But the only person he'll probably talk to about it, besides Maureen, is Lucifer.

    "The day I'm happy again is the day that my mom is alive. Unfortunately, that's not happening. So I guess I'll compromise. He can spend the rest of his life in jail and die there.

    "Then I can go out and celebrate."

    From Bellush to Blackthorne

    Federal prosecutors said the trail led from the body of Sheila Bellush through three men to her ex-husband, Allen Blackthorne.

    * * *

    SHEILA BELLUSH: Mrs. Bellush, 35, is found on her kitchen floor on Nov. 7, 1997, shot in the face, her throat slit and her 2-year-old quadruplets covered in her blood. She had the quads from her marriage to Jamie Bellush, 38, and two teenage daughters from her former marriage to Blackthorne.

    * * *

    JOSE LUIS DEL TORO JR.: Del Toro, 24, the hit man in the murder, was brought to Florida in July 1999 after fleeing to Mexico to avoid prosecution. Police lifted his fingerprints from her clothes dryer. Del Toro says he hit her twice but says a man named Jorge killed her. Del Toro pleaded guilty in July to first-degree murder and burglary charges. He was immediately sentenced to two consecutive life sentences with no parole.

    * * *

    SAMUEL GONZALES: Gonzales, 30, pleaded guilty to soliciting Bellush's murder. He says his friend Daniel Alex Rocha told him he had a golfing buddy who wanted a woman beaten up. For nearly $14,000, Gonzales says, he hired his cousin, Del Toro, for the job. Gonzales was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

    * * *

    DANIEL ALEX ROCHA: Rocha, 31, has been convicted of first-degree murder. He says that while flying out to play golf with Blackthorne in Oregon, Blackthorne asked if Rocha knew somebody who would kill his ex-wife. Blackthorne wanted "to not only beat, but torture Sheila," Rocha says.

    * * *

    ALLEN BLACKTHORNE: In January, more than two years after the murder, Blackthorne was charged with conspiring to commit a murder for hire and with arranging an act of domestic violence over state lines. Prosecutors say that Blackthorne, 45, was desperate for custody of his two daughters and that he had Bellush attacked so she would not be able to care for them. Blackthorne vehemently denied any involvement in the murder. But a federal jury decided he was guilty of both counts. He was sentenced Thursday to two concurrent life sentences in prison with no possibility of parole.

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