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Bellush suspect flown to Florida

The man accused of killing the mother of quadruplets in 1997 is extradited from Mexico.

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 13, 1999


Toro will not face the death penalty in the slaying.
Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., accused of killing a Sarasota mother of quadruplets, was extradited from Mexico late Monday, ending 19 months of legal maneuvering to avoid prosecution.

Del Toro's departure from Mexico City was delayed because of airplane trouble, but the chartered jet left about 9 p.m., authorities said.

Escorted by Mexican police and two FBI agents, Del Toro, 23, was expected to arrive in Miami late Monday or early today, said U.S. Rep. Dan Miller, R-Bradenton.

Arrangements called for Del Toro to spend the night in Miami, then be taken today to Sarasota, where he will face charges in the November 1997 murder of Sheila Leigh Bellush, 35.

"Thank God," Bellush's widower, Jamie Bellush, said Monday. "This thing is far from over, but this is certainly a huge step forward."

Her mother, Gene Smith, 63, said she hoped this would be the end of "a long, hard journey."

"Lots of pain. Lots of tears. Maybe this nightmare will be over," she said.

Del Toro, accused of being the hit man in a murder-for-hire plot, fled to Mexico after authorities said he shot Bellush in the face, then slit her throat in front of her quadruplet toddlers in November 1997.

Details of Del Toro's arrival in Florida were not disclosed for security reasons.

Congressional officials said Monday that after Del Toro's barrage of appeals to remain in Mexico, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled he should be sent to the United States.

Sheila Leigh Bellush, left, was murdered in November 1997. [file photo]

U.S. officials on Monday attributed his extradition to political pressure. Jamie Bellush and several politicians, including Miller, have lobbied Mexican and U.S. officials for Del Toro's return. At a congressional hearing last month in Washington, Jamie Bellush pleaded for justice.

"Why are we here today?" he asked. "Why isn't Del Toro sitting on death row in Florida? Why has my family been subject to continued anguish and been denied justice?"

The Mexican Embassy in Washington declined to discuss Del Toro's return Monday. A news conference is planned at noon today, said Alicia Buenrostro, the Embassy's deputy press officer.

The state attorney's office in Sarasota County, which won a first-degree murder conviction against Daniel Rocha, accused of being the middleman in the murder-for-hire scheme, declined to comment until Del Toro is in Sarasota.

Del Toro, a high school football star from south Texas, will not face the death penalty. In December 1997, Sarasota prosecutors agreed to waive the death penalty against Del Toro if he would return to Florida for prosecution.

Miller, the congressman who fought for the return of Del Toro, a U.S. citizen, said he is disappointed that Del Toro won't be eligible for the death penalty.

"Here's a case where a man drove from San Antonio (Texas) to Sarasota, spent a night in the motel, searched for an address, shot her twice, slit her neck and let her bleed to death," Miller said. "If there's ever a case for the death penalty, this would be it."

Del Toro's return is but latest development in a complex drama that includes Jamie Bellush suing his wife's ex-husband, Allen Blackthorne, for wrongful death.

Police documents suggest a strong link between Blackthorne and an alleged conspiracy that, authorities say, led to the death of Sheila Bellush. Blackthorne has not been charged with any crime.

According to prosecutors and records, Blackthorne wanted Sheila Bellush injured so he could get custody of their two teenage daughters, a plan that led Blackthorne to contact golfing buddy Daniel Rocha, who contacted his friend Samuel Gonzales, who then got Del Toro to do the job.

Gonzales is serving a 19-year sentence. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and has cooperated with detectives. Rocha is serving a life sentence after a first-degree murder conviction.

Reached by telephone in San Antonio, Texas, Blackthorne's wife, Maureen, said her husband was not home. She would not comment.

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