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Conspirators in Texas for questioning

Federal authorities are questioning two men convicted in Sheila Bellush's death.


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 1999

Two men who conspired to kill Sheila Bellush are being questioned in Texas by federal authorities investigating whether her ex-husband played a role in her murder.

Florida prison inmates Daniel Alex Rocha and Samuel Gonzales are in the temporary custody of U.S. marshals while the U.S. Attorney's Office investigates the 1997 murder of Mrs. Bellush.

"I would assume that they're going to talk to FBI and U.S. attorney's staff and they may or may not testify before a grand jury," said Ken Nunley, a Texas attorney who represents Mrs. Bellush's widower, Jamie Bellush.

Florida Department of Corrections spokesman C.J. Drake said Monday that Gonzales was moved to Texas on Oct. 29; Rocha, on Nov. 1.

Drake said the men probably are needed for federal court proceedings or questioning by authorities. Drake said he has not been told when Rocha and Gonzales will return.

The office of U.S. Attorney Bill Blagg of the Western District of Texas is handling the inquiry into the killing.

Authorities say Allen Blackthorne, Sheila Bellush's ex-husband, is suspected of hiring Rocha and Gonzales in a murder-for-hire scheme.

The man accused in her death, Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., goes on trial in Sarasota County on a first-degree murder charge next year.

Nunley said he thought federal authorities are "dealing solely with Blackthorne. They figure Florida will take care of Del Toro, and they have the easiest shot at Blackthorne," Nunley said.

Blackthorne, who lives in San Antonio, has denied involvement in Mrs. Bellush's death. He has not been charged with any crime. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

Mrs. Bellush, 35, was shot and stabbed in her Sarasota home six weeks after moving from San Antonio with her husband and six children.

Gonzales, Del Toro's cousin, confessed to his role in the murder-for-hire plot. He is serving a 19-year sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

Rocha, a golfing acquaintance of Blackthorne's, is serving a life sentence.

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